California is in the fourth year of a very serious drought. Water restrictions are being imposed. Agriculture is being significantly affected, which will result in rising prices across the United States for vegetables, fruits, nuts, and so forth. The Sierra snowpack is minimal or nonexistent in some places, so the spring snowmelt will not result in the drought-ending refilling of reservoirs, which are at about 30 percent of capacity.
When will the drought end? No one knows -- but there is no evidence that it will end soon. Some experts are saying that this drought condition is the "new normal" for California. This might also be true for Oregon and Washington, which this year are experiencing drought conditions.
As California, Oregon, and Washington experience water shortages, Texas and other states have been awash in water this spring: severe floods have caused billions of dollars in damage, lost revenue for farmers, thousands of homes demolished or severely damaged, cars trapped in deep water, schools closed, top-soil being washed away, and so on. (Note: In one month in 2015 the amount of rain that fell in Texas would cover all of the state of Rhode Island in 10 feet of water.)
Summary: California is one of the largest states -- and in dire need of water. Texas is one of the largest states -- and large areas of it are overwhelmed with water not being put to good use.
Light bulb: What if the water from Texas and other water-laden states could be transported to California and other drought states? Right now the flood-waters are not put to good use. What if the United Stated Congress and the White House determined that a National Water Grid was necessary to secure an adequate food supply at reasonable prices for decades to come and to avoid severe damage to cities, farms, and homes? We would have a visionary solution to what is otherwise a terrible and ongoing waste of water.
It's easy to quickly think of the many reasons that a massive water-transport system would not work and would be very expensive. A water grid differs significantly from an electric grid: electricity moves at high speeds through wires, while water is heavy and would require large pipes, large catch basins and reservoirs, and perhaps some canals. Do you go around mountains or drill through them to keep the water relatively level? Do you employ large and powerful pumps or a system of locks when it is necessary to move the water uphill? And how about the headache of securing huge amounts of above-ground and underground rights of way?
Before we give up without thinking, let's recall a few humongous projects from which the United States has reaped enormous benefits...for many decades. Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. The Transcontinental Railroad. The national highway system. The Panama Canal. NASA's space program that put humans in orbit around Earth, placed them on the moon, and allowed humans to live in space stations for months at a time.
Each of these is an amazing example of how human ingenuity, applied science and technology, grit and gumption, and a national vision combined to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Imagine if our nation could channel enormous volumes of water to the locations that desperately need it...and in the process limit the amount of damage that floodwaters wreak as well as ensure that agriculture would continue to flourish.
It would be a win-win for the nation. It would be a win-win for the states suffering from drought and for the states suffering from floods. It would be a win-win for all of us who buy vegetables, fruits, and nuts. It would be a win-win for all the homes and businesses that would not be destroyed.
Will this be costly? Of course. (But not as costly as decades of drought and flooding.) Will there be unintended consequences? Of course. (That's always the case with ambitious projects.) Will there be technological challenges and glitches? Of course. (We learn from our mistakes...and move forward nonetheless.) Will there be intelligent nay-sayers who make strong counter-arguments? Of course. (When has that not been the case?)
Why not desalinization of Pacific Ocean water? For a number of reasons. It is very costly. Desalinization requires enormous amounts of energy (which is costly and often polluting). If private companies build the desalinization plants, there is a private-public conflict over who controls the desalinization effort and prevents abuses of desalinized water. The intake of ocean water to cool down the operation desalinization plants will kill billions of fish annually. Ergo, desalinization is an option of last resort - and best-suited for nations where there is no excess water being wasted (say, in a nation that is primarily desert).
The bottom line is: We, as a nation, can no longer afford to do nothing major about catastrophic flooding or severe droughts that cause millions and billions of dollars of damage each year. We, as a nation, can no longer afford to allow potentially useful water to be wasted in floods. It's time that we stopped sitting on our fatalistic duffs and adopted a can-do attitude. It's time for a National Water Grid.