David Op’t Hof: It’s time for a national flood control project

Bring water from where there are floods to Utah and other places that are too dry.

Several years ago, I drove down into Utah Valley from the mountains on the west side. Spread before me were thousands of homes built in recent decades.

“Where are we going to get the water to support all these homes?” popped into mind. “Utah is a desert and cannot possibly support all these homes,” I thought.

Our water situation has only gotten worse, and it is time to do something about it. Recent news items have reported on the dire condition of the Colorado River.

What we need is a transcontinental pipeline to re-distribute water from places in the United States that have too much water to places that have too little. Every year the Midwest has severe flooding that inundates farms and towns. Meanwhile, the Southwest languishes under a drought that has lasted 22 years. Lake Powell is 180 feet down and Lake Meade is 143 feet below full. Experts say there is a 1 in 3 chance that the Glen Canyon Dam may not have enough water to generate electricity in 2023.

Though scoffers might call such an idea preposterous, is it any more so than building the transcontinental railroad or the Interstate Highway system? Is it any more preposterous than building the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams?

Tokyo is a city of 38 million that faces numerous flooding threats. The Japanese have built a huge concrete cistern under the city designed to collect flood waters that can then be pumped out into the ocean. In other areas of the city where homes were built on land that is below sea level, they have built super-levees to hold back floodwaters. City planners are also raising the land behind the levees so that when that 100-year storm hits that tops the levees, the buildings behind the levees are themselves on higher ground.

We have oil and gas pipelines, rail lines and roads that traverse the country and an electric grid that distributes power to us all. These infrastructure systems did not exist a hundred years ago, and they took decades to build. But they got done because American ingenuity figured out how. That same ingenuity can surely devise the methods to redistribute our water.

Such a system would start with a large trunkline beginning at the Mississippi and traveling west to California. Branches from the main trunk could travel to areas where water regularly needs to be removed, water which is collected in lakes, reservoirs, even underground cisterns like the one in Tokyo. Branches could then deposit the water into drought areas in the West, first Lakes Meade and Powell, and then others as the branches are extended.

Though such a project would cost a great deal, flooding and drought have already cost trillions in dollars and countless lives. Getting more water into the West would ameliorate the wildfires, save farms and create thousands of high-paying jobs for decades.

Naysayers would also question why the country should spend money to help certain parts of the country at the expense of others. Such a water management system would include hurricane-prone areas in the East to ease the damage there.

As Ben Franklin observed, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Money invested in a national flood control system would save billions in flood and drought damage. Climate change is causing more destructive storms and disruptions to our water supply. We can ignore the problem or pretend there is no problem.

Or we can prevent the flooding in the first place.

David Op’t Hof

David Op’t Hof, Lehi, is a retired educator, writer and philosopher.