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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.


12:14 pm - Wed, December 12 2012
Al Johnson said:
Nice bit of satire.

Has residential conservation of water worked anywhere?
04:03 pm - Wed, December 12 2012
Yes, it has:
04:16 pm - Wed, December 12 2012
04:30 pm - Wed, December 12 2012
Peter Gleick addresses this terraforming proposal in the Huffington Post:

Gleick notes that U.S. water withdrawals have flatlined over the last three decades, showing conservation can work without hindering GDP growth. He also notes that the energy inputs to push Missouri River water hundreds of miles and 5000 feet uphill would be huge.

And most thrillingly, Gleick links to the government study that proposes this pipeline:
01:06 pm - Thu, December 13 2012
mikeyc, that's me! said:
Ah....the west......where we fight over water, and drink whiskey.
02:41 pm - Thu, December 13 2012
John Andrews said:
In the 1970s, South Dakota farmers decided they didn't want the pipes and ditches of the Oahe Irrigation Project strewn across their land, and that was to move water to benefit fellow South Dakotans. I wonder what Kansas farmers would think about doing something similar to help people two and three states away?
04:48 am - Fri, December 14 2012
Former Kansas governor Mike Hayden sounds skeptical, as do others. Even the US Bureau of Reclamation, which prepared the report, says the pipeline option isn't as good an idea as conservation:
06:37 am - Sat, December 15 2012
Ed Goss said:
If you ever lived on a farm with a well dug in 1911 and raising 3 kids, 180 momma cows and there off spring and then feed and water up to 1500 sheep with this dinky well that is over 60 years old. Mom the kids and the old man know how to conserve water and I can go to any town or community and see ways to conserve water. But one thing about it if that farmer doesn't get water in some form or the other a person could get awful hungery or eat and drink all the good stuff that is now in the stores that comes from countries that use chemicals on the fruits and veggies the the US has banned cuz some one has figured out it ain't healthy. SOO what you gonna do.
08:08 pm - Sat, December 15 2012
Ed, first I'm going to appoint you water czar to go travel to all of those big cities and audit all of their water conservation practices. Second, I'll have you hand all those folks water bills from Mobridge, Pierre, Chamberlain, and Yankton and ask them to compare them to their Phoenix and Las Vegas bills. Third, I'll cut the farm subsidies and federal crop insurance that favor megafarms and drive unsustainable ag practices... or at least reconfigure the Farm Bill to focus squarely on conservation and nutrition.
07:23 am - Sun, December 16 2012
Ed Goss said:
Since I own a home and am spending the winter in Mesa (lets me know what the water bill is) and also have one very near you. And own a farm and Would be happy to let you know my farm check this year was less than 300 dollars and that was for land on a creek bottom to plant trees and hopefully habitat for wild life, where you can't get big farm equipment. But I decline the appointment since I am not sure you have a handle on SD politics.
09:39 am - Sat, December 22 2012
No problem, Ed: your farm subsidies obviously aren't the problem. In your case, the subsidies are supporting responsible conservation protecting wildlife and water supply. I'll focus the cuts on the handful of big corporate operations that sop up the subsidies for producing unhealthy food and plowing up the ditches.
06:38 am - Sun, December 23 2012
Ed Goss said:
But Corey just what percent of the fruits and the vegtables you eat or buy at the grocery store come from countries outside the US that use chemicals that have been banned for use by the big cooperative farms in the US.
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