National Flood and Drought Control:
An "Interstate Highway System" for Water

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[This is the text of a letter that the Expansionist Party of the United States sent to the editor of three major newspapers (The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times) with delays to see if any used it before another was sent to  in late-winter 1997.  None was interested.  A year later, scores of Americans had died and billions of dollars of damage had been done by floods attributed to El Niño. By late-spring 1998 drought and extreme heat brought vast brushfires and crop damage to Florida, even as the Northeast was deluged with record rainfall.  Meteorologists warn of more complications to national weather from "La Niña", the "cold phase" of the "El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle" of water-temperature variations in the Pacific Ocean. La Niña brings similar effects, but reversed, such that areas that are unusually wet in El Niño periods may become unusually dry in La Niña periods. In August 2000, every state from the eastern foothills of the Rockies west had huge, drought-produced forest fires burning out of control, while in the East we had week after week of wet weather.  In northwestern New Jersey, bridges were washed away and roads and millions of dollars of private property damaged by 14 inches of rain in a single day! Might someone listen now? What it all comes down to is that we can be certain that at any given time, one part of the Nation will be wet and another dry, sometimes with devastating effects upon both.  In a few years there will be another El Niño, and another La Niña. Will we suffer the same needless devastation then too? and in each El Niño/La Niña cycle thereafter forever? Or will we finally recognize that we need to act to mitigate the extremes nationwide?]

March 14, 1997

Re: National Flood Control 

To the Editor:

Drought and floods, floods and drought — when will Government figure it out? Almost every year some part of this country is under water while another area is parched. Both too much water and too little bear terrible costs.

We need an interstate highway system for water. As the national power grid moves electricity, a national water grid could move water from where there's too much to where there's too little. The United States could be free of both large-scale floods and regional droughts if only we create a network of canals, pipelines, impoundments, and irrigation systems to move large quantities of water around the Nation in advance of expected downpours.

We have the engineering and financial ability to create a massive system of waterworks to preempt flooding and irrigate dry lands with water that would otherwise ravage population centers and kill people. We can create new rivers and, at their mouth, new wetlands in sparsely populated regions to replace wetlands being destroyed in populous parts. The arid and semi-arid West and, especially, remote intermountain trenches can serve as the Nation's cistern. A five-year national supply could be stored there for redistribution to any area afflicted by drought. Basic-reserve supplies could be stored in covered reservoirs and recharged aquifers. Excess supplies could be stored in above-ground lakes and irrigation canals designed to saturate subsoils and gradually recharge regional streams and rivers. The Colorado River could be made to reach the sea again!

Thousands of miles of canals in all kinds of scenery could be used not just for water transfer but also for transportation of time-insensitive bulk commodities, canoeing, and local and long-distance boating. Thousands of interconnected lakes and marshes would provide massive new areas for swimming, boating and fishing, maybe even create new flyways for migratory waterfowl. Environmentally sensitive management would maintain minimum discharges from major waterways and control mosquitos and other water pests with managed populations of fish, pollywogs, dragonflies and the like. Cleared discharge from sewage lagoons and storm sewers could be linked to the system, and water hyacinths used to further purify water in transitional zones. (Excess water hyacinths can be harvested as compostable, portable fertilizer.)

A national water grid would stabilize water levels nationwide. In unusually wet years, the High Plains would turn lushly green and Southwestern deserts bloom. In dry years, the Plains and deserts would revert to their normal aridity while normally wet areas would maintain adequate water levels. Shipping on navigable waterways would never halt for lack of navigable depth. No region's farmers would face ruin from either drought or flood. Agricultural prices would be protected from needless fluctuation. And the annual toll of destruction and death to people, livestock, wild animals and forests would be reduced to the minimum that people can achieve. Localized flash floods will inevitably produce some destruction — though even that can be minimized by providing conduits out of flash-flood areas into the national water grid.

The cost of an interstate highway system for water would be enormous, but so would the savings in property damage and agricultural devastation that does not occur, levees and dams that don't have to be reconstructed, and human lives, with all their potentialities, that would not be lost and mourned. Further, in creating a national water grid, scientists and engineers would likely make important discoveries that would produce unanticipated benefits in disciplines far removed from hydrology.

The solution to regional flooding is to move water out of the region, not intensify water-control measures within a wet region. If we start now, in 30 years killer floods along hundreds of miles of the Ohio or Mississippi, and devastating droughts in Texas or Georgia will be nothing more than tall tales that youngsters will have trouble believing.


L. Craig Schoonmaker, Chairman, Expansionist Party of the United States