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Attention, thirsty desert state citizens! Have you considered a move to the lush oasis that is Clay County, South Dakota? Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Attention, thirsty desert state citizens! Have you considered a move to the lush oasis that is Clay County, South Dakota? Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Save the Missouri — Build a Metroplex!

Dec 12, 2012


Just a year and a half after record flooding along the Missouri, South Dakotans are fretting about falling water levels on the big river. This year's drought is again leaving some Lake Oahe boat ramps high and dry. Our governor and Congressional delegation are girding for court battle against downstream states who want more water to float their boats. 

But you know who's really thirsty? Colorado. Arizona. California. Those states and their neighbors want to build an $11.2-billion pipeline that would pump Missouri River water from Leavenworth, Kansas, uphill along Interstate 70 to support their growing desert populations.

I've read over the past few years that the great wars of this century will be fought over water. Even domestically, our little squabbles with Louisiana and Mississippi over the relative economic importance of walleye fishing versus grain barges will pale compared to the fight we'll have with five million Phoenix metro residents saying, "We need a drink!"

We might not get into a shooting match with the Southwest, but the political water war will be fought with votes. And when Las Vegas has more voters than North and South Dakota combined, we're at a disadvantage.

If we want to protect the Missouri River, we may have to fight metroplexes with metroplexes. Instead of moving precious Missouri River water hundreds of miles to people in the desert, why not convince those people to move to the water? The Southwest has tricked people into setting up housekeeping in the middle of a desert (scorpions! tarantulas! aaaahhh!); it can't be any harder to get people to move to the sun-kissed bluffs of the Missouri here on the moister, milder, mulchable plains.

But how do we get folks to move here and build those Missouri River metros on our shores? If the compelling logic of living right next to their water supply isn't enough, maybe we need a new homestead program: buy out all the big farms and ranches along the river (all that ag chemical runoff is bad for water quality, right?), offer free plots of land with views of the river, maybe even subsidize locally grown straw bale houses.

Then again, it might be more logical to convince Americans to conserve water and not build cities in regions that can't support them. From that perspective, too, a Missouri River metroplex (Pier-GettyMo? Chamber-Yank?), with plenty of fresh water and reasonably good nearby land for organic agriculture, would prove a better option than shipping Lake Oahe to Las Vegas.

Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.

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