Out West, a lot of cities figure many more people will be moving in over the next few decades. Water engineers wish those people would bring along all the water they’ll need, but of course they won’t. Shawn Allee reports these cities want to pipe more water from far away, and some people think that’s a bad idea:
Out West, a lot of cities figure many more people will be moving in over the next few
decades. Water engineers wish those people would bring along all the water they’ll
need, but of course they won’t. Shawn Allee reports these cities want to pipe more
water from far away, and some people think that’s a bad idea:
The air in Colorado Springs is usually so dry it quickly chaps your lips.
What gives? Colorado Springs sounds wet enough.
“There’re really no springs in Colorado Springs, so when you start talking
about water, it’s a divergence between our name and reality. Sounds like we
had a lot, and in reality we didn’t.”
This is Matt Mayberry, Colorado Spring’s historian.
I’ve heard about this massive water pipeline project the town’s cooking up, and I was
curious just how long the city’s worked to quench its thirst.
Mayberry’s got an exhaustive book on that with an exhaustive title.
“Blah, blah, blah … the emergence and appropriation of rights in Colorado
The crib notes version?
Early on, buffalo manure poisoned Colorado Spring’s creek, so people dug wells.
Then, the wells got infested with grasshoppers.
And the town grew, and grew, and grew again.
“Very soon you had to bring water from further away, and ultimately to the
Western Slope which is a couple hours drive of here.”
Today, Colorado Springs pipes water through the Rocky Mountain range.
Doing the extraordinary for water is kinda ordinary for Colorado Springs.
Its latest pipeline project is called the Southern Delivery System, and it’ll pump nearly
80 million gallons into town each year – and it’ll pump that water forty five miles –
Impressive, but some people are asking tough questions about it.
“Our concern with this project is the greenhouse gas emissions that it would
Stacy Tellinghuisen is with Western Resource Advocates, a Colorado environmental
She says there’s a connection between pumping water uphill and a large carbon
“Water is heavy. Pumping it over a great distance takes a lot of energy, and
in the process it would require something along the lines of 60 MW of power,
which is about a tenth of a power plant.”
And, for the most part, the utility burns natural gas and coal to generate power. Both
emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Tellinghuisen says Western cities are considering at least five other water pipeline
projects, some with even larger carbon footprints.
She wants Colorado Springs to set an example by using dedicated low-carbon sources
like wind power for its water pumps.
I ask the Colorado Springs Utilities about that.
Keith Riley helped plan the Southern Delivery System.
“We think there are some ways we can minimize the carbon footprint by
looking at some new technologies.”
Riley says there were lots of environmental regulations to wade through before the
Southern Delivery System got approved.
But a large carbon footprint doesn’t disqualify utility projects.
Riley says, even if carbon were considered, the project might have gone forward
anyway because the city’s expected to grow over the next few decades.
“Water is the essential element for all of us, so when it comes to that level of
sustaining our own lives, then you get to some trade-offs on what we’re
willing to do to keep ourselves alive where we we live, where our cities are.
No matter what happens, we’ve got to move water to Colorado Springs, and
we’re uphill from the river, so we’ve got to get the water uphill one way or
Riley says Colorado Springs Utilities is considering low-carbon renewable power for its
But it’ll be expensive, and no one’s stepped forward with all the money.
Other Western cities are engineering clever ways of moving loads of water around,
too. And it’ll be a political and financial challenge for them to pay for the carbon
For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.