Siphon water from Mississippi River – Twin Cities

In all-too-sunny Southern California, residents of the popular Sonoran Desert city known as Palm Springs are roasting in the heat and worried about their water. With an eye toward future shortages, desert denizens have drawn up what they consider to be a logical proposal, which they’ve repeatedly promoted through the letters pages of their local newspaper, the Desert Sun.

Their solution to a looming, if uneven, water crisis? Sending in water from Minnesota and the Great Lakes or thereabouts.

“The West is dry. We didn’t plan well enough. We need Midwest water,” reads an online letters-to-the-editor headline from July 15.

“When floods hit the Midwest, the West helps pay,” reads another letter headline from July 17. “So give us some water.”

“Snowbirds winter in the desert, but balk at sharing water? Hypocrisy!” reads a July 19 headline.

“The U.S. went to the moon. Surely it can move water from Midwest to West,” reads yet another letter from July 12.


Desert Sun executive editor Julie Makinen said she’s never seen so much traffic for a single letter, such as the one that drew nearly 75,000 page views on June 22 when a Las Vegas resident got the ball rolling by writing that Mississippi River water could be diverted to the Colorado River.

The problem prompting that supposed solution? A megadrought measured last year throughout Western states like California and Nevada and stretching as far as Montana and Texas is thought to be the worst of its kind in 1,200 years.

“(Environmental reporter) Janet Wilson’s article on federal officials floating drastic measures to stanch California’s water crisis was great,” wrote Bill Nichols, in a 99-word letter to the editor. “Instead of just conservation, what about a Tennessee Water Authority-like project to divert the Mississippi River and build a canal with reservoirs along the way, to pipe it into the Colorado River? Kill two birds with two stones — not so farfetched when you see the type of projects being built in the Middle East and China! It’s about will.”

“Talk about a great works project,” Nichols added, “and a fantastic way to usher in a new decade for the Southwest.”

Then, on June 30, a letter writer’s suggestion that “we could fill Lake Powell in less than a year with an aqueduct from (the) Mississippi River” got picked up by Google’s “Discover” feed, which automatically matches news items to users based on their interests.

Suddenly, that Desert Sun letter alone was drawing 465,000 online page views, a record for the newspaper, which has a paid daily circulation of 20,000 to 50,000 copies.


Homes with swimming pools in Palm Springs, Calif.
Homes with swimming pools in Palm Springs, Calif., April 3, 2015. The state’s history as a frontier of prosperity and glamour faces an uncertain future because of severe water shortages. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

“It just blew up,” said Makinen, noting it usually takes some effort to find scintillating fare for the letters pages. “It’s just been insane. I’ve been here four years, and we’ve never had this level of engagement.”

The last big letters page controversy, she said, involved a proposal last year to install a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe, pale legs in a billowing dress, in the center of Palm Springs.

The growing, some might say thirsty, demand for Mississippi River water hasn’t been met sitting down. Midwest snowbirds familiar with the newspaper, among other readers, also have written in, aghast at the prospect of pumping or trucking river water some 1,900 miles across country to some of the hottest, priciest and most overpopulated corners of the nation.

Several writers have expressed concern about the foreseeable environmental effects of water diversion dropping water tables, destroying wetlands, drying out farms and potentially changing weather patterns needed to support America’s breadbasket.

“Water from Midwest could bring invasive species,” warns a letter writer, already bracing for the aftermath of a hypothetical water corridor.

“I live in Red Wing, Minnesota,” begins a recent letter from reader Paul Cofell. “Recently I have noticed several letters to the editor in your publication that promoted taking water from the Mississippi River or the Great Lakes and diverting it to California via pipeline or aqueduct. I will save you some time by informing you that it is not going to happen because the local citizenry here doesn’t want you to have that water.”

Cofell added: “There are very, very many people living along the Mississippi River and around the Great Lakes that really, really don’t like California or Californians.” He also pointed to a period of time in California history when valley farmers near Los Angeles dynamited an aqueduct that was stealing their agua.

“We have plenty of dynamite in Minnesota,” Cofell wrote. “My advice to you is: Don’t Californicate the upper Midwest.”


This isn’t the first time that the question of water shortages throughout the U.S. has inspired proposals to borrow H2O from the Mississippi River.

In 2019, a Lakeville railroad company drew up plans to pump 500 million gallons of groundwater a year from a southeast Minnesota aquifer for shipping to the arid Southwest. Elected officials in Dakota County cried foul, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources quickly stepped in to assure residents the DNR sees “virtually no scenario” where the agency would grant a water appropriation permit for the project.

That proposal originated with Empire Building Investments, the real estate arm of Lakeville-based Progressive Rail.

Alarmed, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners voted to approve stronger water-control regulations in May 2020 and April 2021 that prohibit new wells using more than 50 million gallons of water a year for commercial or institutional water supplies. They exempted agricultural uses.

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