HOUSTON (CN) — Arizona is grappling with how to do without one-third of its water supply. Lake Charles, Louisiana, residents are struggling to recover from back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes. Climate change is here but addressing it can be overwhelming.
An initiative focused on water, energy, heat and equity in U.S. cities “on the same street,” the Interstate 10 corridor from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, has taken a leading role.
Wellington “Duke” Reiter, senior adviser to Arizona State University’s president and former dean of its College of Design, considers New Orleans a second home.
He obtained an architecture degree from Tulane University in the early 1980s and his thesis on disaster housing opened his eyes to the risks of climate change. He moved on to Harvard but the focus of his graduate work was how New Orleans could prepare for a worst-case-scenario hurricane.
After Hurricane Katrina swamped the city in August 2005, Wellington, then an ASU dean, offered a refuge for Tulane students who had fled the biblical storm.
“We hosted about 60 students, half a dozen faculty, put them up immediately and they had a spectacular semester here in Phoenix,” Reiter said in an interview. “So that relationship with cities and institutions across the country was something of an inspiration for the Ten Across project.”
Moved by his belief the southern United States “offers a compelling window on what lies ahead for the nation” Reiter, backed by ASU, founded Ten Across in 2017 to bring together academics, environmental leaders and city officials to forge networks and share ideas.
After holding its first summits in Baton Rouge and Phoenix in 2018 and 2019, the group came together for its third one this week in Houston.
Arizona and six other Western states that depend on water from the Colorado River are facing a crisis in a drought that has substantially diminished its flow. So why not build a pipeline to move water from the Mississippi River across Texas to Arizona and the rest of the Colorado River Basin?
A panel including Cynthia Campbell, water resources management advisor for the city of Phoenix, discussed the idea Wednesday at the Ten Across Summit.
While the pipeline concept may sound outlandish, Campbell noted people also rolled their eyes when the possibility of diverting Colorado River water to Arizona was first broached in the 1930s.
“Representing the city of Phoenix, you never say never,” Campbell said. “We’re the recipient of probably one of the most recent engineering feats in that sense. The Central Arizona Project carries water from the Colorado River 336 miles uphill through central Arizona in a canal.”
The project was commissioned in the 1980s, but the Bureau of Reclamation is now effectively turning off the spigot, directing Arizona and other states in the basin to conserve 2 to 4 more million acre-feet in 2023. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to supply a family of four for a year.
Campbell said the cuts have forced Phoenix to take an all-of-the-above approach and consider desalination, more groundwater usage and advanced water purification, in addition to demand management.
Campbell stressed such a pipeline should only divert excess floodwaters from the Mississippi and not diminish its regular flows. And the Mississippi is also struggling with droughts.
Just last year the river’s barge traffic dropped 30% with water levels in some parts of the watershed falling to their lowest levels in their recorded history back to the late 1800s.
While a pipeline project of this immensity would take decades, some innovations on adapting to a warming planet are happening today beside the nation’s interstate highway system.
Allie Kelly is executive director of The Ray, an organization that manages an 18-mile stretch of highway in Georgia. The nonprofit and roadway are named after the late Ray Anderson, who turned his modular carpet company Interface Inc. into a billion-dollar enterprise within 20 years and was a climate pioneer who set goals for the business in 1994 of zero carbon emissions and zero waste to landfill.