BIG Water Moving

No More Floods; No More Droughts
(Revisited)

As our Congress messes around doing absolutely nothing about improving America's infrastructure, I can't resist pulling up my RBI (Really Big Idea) from 2003.  Put on your "government could really work" rose-colored glasses and read this. (Sorry about the small font. I'm working on it.)


May 2020    The Mississippi River is approaching flood stage in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.  The Corps of Engineers monitors the levees and dikes with the giant web of depth gauges and flow meters.  The U.S. Weather Bureau is predicting major rainstorms in several of the watersheds.  Supercomputers are crunching trillions of numbers and putting options in clear graphical displays in front of Corps decision makers.  

The top Corps engineer picks up the Red Phone and calls the White House.  Connections are made and the Secretary of the Interior, the Vice President and The Woman Herself come online and listen to the report.
“It’s an easy one, ladies and gentlemen,” says the Top Engineer.  There is a 28 million acre foot shortfall in the western tier.  Colorado, New Mexico, west Texas and Arizona are potentially critical.  Cropland flooding is on schedule in the Mississippi basin.   My recommendation is to do a full diversion.”
There are a few questions, mainly dealing with what the hard-core environmentalists will say, and the political implications, but basically it’s a slam dunk.  “Anyone?” asks the president.  A short silence, then “Go, sir,” says the President to the top engineer.
A hundred and seventy-three huge sluice gates begin to open along the levees.  Flood gates slide up and billions of gallons of water start siphoning through twenty foot diameter pipes into super-cisterns holding millions of acre feet of water, and when full, more pipes and aqueducts siphon the flow into the next enormous storage facilities.
The Mississippi is beyond human control.  Decades of failure to contain and control the monster river system bear testimony to its might and mankind’s hubris at the thought of containing it.  But this is different.  Like judo, this endeavor involves giving into the pressure, resisting negatively, pulling the adversary along the path it chooses.  
“Releasing flood pressure at equilibrium,” says the supercomputer.  The river is diverted in a way modern man calls “distributed,” pulling water out of the river in a gentle fashion at over a hundred points.   As the flood crest moves downstream, more conduits open, their concrete mouths gulping millions of gallons per minute.  As the crest passes, gates close upstream, maintaining the natural dynamics of flow as it would have occurred if the weather had not run amuck.  
The cisterns, immense human-made lakes with the impermeable containment of concrete, stagger the perception of most people.  Ten miles wide, twenty long and a hundred feet deep, these are hardly what people have learned to mean when they say “cistern.”  When they are filling, each has ten of the 20-foot conduits pouring arcing cataracts of muddy, foaming river water crashing into the basins.  These controlled floods have driven through huge turbines, generating both gigawatts of electrical power and gigajoules of potential energy in RAID stacks of multi-ton flywheels. 


As the cisterns fill, the automated gates twenty miles away at the other end slide up, exposing the ten outflow conduits that course for miles to the next cistern, a hundred feet lower, even – as is often the case – if it must be totally underground to reach that level.  Again the water turns turbines connected to generators and kinetic energy storage wheels.

As the unrelenting flow from the mighty Mississippi continues, the second stage cisterns fill, and the next phase of the process kicks in.  As the ten conduits at the far end open, turbine pumps begin sucking the water out of the buried cistern and pushing it up to the next battery of cisterns on the surface, drawing on the energy created in the first two stages.  As electricity is drained in this Brobdingnagian water lifting, the great flywheels are clutched into the generators to spin down their solar and wind-augmented energy to run the pumps.  Months of storing the free energy of the sun and winds have created a surplus of billions of joules before the hydropower of the river drain topped it off.






From the third stage cisterns, the water is launched into the transcontinental pipes, surging across the Great Plains toward the thirsty west. These fifty-foot diameter pipelines lined with Teflon course along the Interstate Highway system easements, most commonly in the medians creating impenetrable safety barriers between the opposing lanes.  Every hundred miles pumping stations powered by stored solar and wind energy boosts the water higher toward the National Divide and into diversion tunnels to aquifer-replenishing reverse wells.



The comparisons between the Water Project for America and the Interstate Highway System have been made since the first proposals made their way through Congress.  The bumper stickers that said “Ike Did It; We Can Do It” caught the spirit of the national enthusiasm for the vast project and memorialized the comparison with the highway project of the ‘50s.
“No More Floods… No More Droughts” was another bumper sticker, and the slogan of the administration that saw the project as its signature endeavor.  “For the Farmers; For the Hungry of the World” was a double bumper sticker that covered whole rear bumpers by the tens of thousands in agribusiness country. 
The results have almost lived up to the aspirations.   In the five years since the system went on line, there has not been a crop failure due to drought in the whole of the United States.  Forest fire crises in the west have dropped to zero.  Not one community on the great rivers has been inundated.  Commodity futures have ceased to be a gambling issue.  Food exports to hungry countries has been immense.  


The sponsoring administration’s party was re-elected by a landslide.
Financing the project has been a modern miracle mix of public and private funding.  Co-ops have been formed by the thousands to invest individuals’ money in sections of the system, with income guaranteed by the states, municipalities and companies that would benefit from flood protection and water usage.   The woman who was the architect of this portion of the financing was Secretary of the Treasury and was immortalized by having the Mississippi River Cisterns named after her.  “Dorothy’s Cisterns” are as well known as Niagara Falls.  The other great flooding rivers of the country each have cistern systems of various sorts (and local politicians’ names), many using existing reservoirs as well as the new containment designs of the Mississippi cisterns.  Where the topography allowed – as along portions of the Missouri and the Tennessee Rivers, the conduits are often more traditional aqueducts with locks and pumps.
In the twelve years it took to complete the project, unemployment dropped to 2%, and a job on the Great Project has the badge of significance comparable to being a World War II veteran or a steel worker on the Empire State Building or a fireman during the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in times past.  Cynics said that the Water Project for America (of course they called it the “WPA”) was the greatest make-work project since the building of the pyramids, but they were properly ignored, for the work was hard, challenging, honorable and for an obviously wonderful cause.
One of the two principal heroes of the project was the master designer, a quiet genius from Colorado State University who not only drew the general plan but who could articulate how it was practical, and incredibly beneficial, to both endless Congressional committees and to the public in equally endless media interviews.   
The other hero was the President of the United States, who decided to risk all her political capital and her place in history on what was originally called her Folly.  She ran her administration with a quiet competence that she made background to her powerful advocacy – and stunning use of the bully pulpit – for the Water Project for America.  
Her greatest gamble was to reconcile her position as an environmentalist – a major plank in her election campaign – with the outraged hardcore environmentalists who saw the project as a cancerous intrusion into the natural order.  She enrolled Nobel laureates, ecologists, climate modelers and every variety of scientist in unfettered advisory and critique panels.  Gradually these savants built a consensus on why the idea was a sound one, fitting to the times of humankind, and their concerns and cautions were integrated into the master plan.  The hard-core environmentalists had to buy in, and it was one of the great victories of civil accommodation in history.   Security issues were addressed by the creation of the Water Patrol of America, young adult mandatory public service program, WPA Volunteers for fit older citizens and a DARPA-funded technology revolution in security surveillance systems.  It took all eight years of Madam President’s time in office, but it was done.
So the Mississippi Flood of 2020 (and most other U.S. floods) became the End of Drought.  The solar and wind energy industry joined the oil companies as Majors.  American technology took another great leap. Agricultural subsidy took on an entirely new meaning.  Millions of Americans became owners of a dependable money machine.  Dying aquifers began refilling.  The Presidency regained some of its luster.  And the rest of the world began to emulate a plan that worked.

USA! USA! USA!

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