EDITORIAL: It's our water, they're also our neighbors

Sep. 13—Does Missouri need to take steps to protect its water from parched states in the West and Southwest?


They're coming.

But we must recognize that this is not a simple equation and that we are all in this together — as a country.

At a recent meeting of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, the focus was on a compact among the 10 states that share the Mississippi River to prevent diversion of water.

Moving water from the Midwest to states in the West and Southwest may seem a far-fetched fantasy, but it's no more so than the way we move oil around the world with tankers, pipelines and politics.

An interesting fact about the Mississippi River is that it is in some ways also a Western river, its basin including tributaries bringing water from as far as the Montana-Idaho border (the Missouri), a large corner of Northwest New Mexico (the Canadian), and within 120 or so miles of the Utah border (the Arkansas).

Don't think they don't have their eye on Midwestern water, whether it's the Mississippi River or some other source, including groundwater. Here's some of what we're seeing already:

An Iowa company has been persistent in filing applications with that state to pump millions of gallons of water from the Jordan aquifer to export by train to drought-stricken Western states. Iowa has been persistent in saying no.

Ditto for Minnesota.

In 2021, the Arizona Legislature passed a measure calling on Congress to investigate pumping flood water from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River to bolster its flow.

Meanwhile, a Kansas groundwater management agency has already received a permit to truck 6,000 gallons of Missouri River water to Kansas and Colorado in hopes of recharging the Ogallala Aquifer underneath those and other states. It is an experiment that, if proven to work, means they will be back for more.

There were plans by a Canadian company in the 1990s to fill tankers with Great Lakes water and ship it to Asia. It led to a Great Lakes Compact, which strengthened cooperation among Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces to manage water from those lakes effectively, monitor its use and prevent it from leaving the basin.

Reality is undeniable: We have water, our neighbors to the west need water. They will look to us. But this is also undeniable: They have resources — energy, food produced with that water, — that we want or need. What if they tell us they won't supply food produced by the states that share the Ogallah Aquifer or from the Imperial Valley in California?

We tell them to grow wheat without water, and they will tell us to bake bread without wheat. What if these Western states decide to protect their water interests before that water reaches the Mississippi?

We have an obligation to responsible stewards of our resources, and also to be responsible neighbors.