Towing icebergs to California, diverting Mississippi River water to the Colorado Front Range or building massive plants to desalinize water from the Sea of Cortez are among the options to counter future water shortages in the two basins of the Colorado River.
"I would hate to see us get into the situation where water rates are so expensive that only the people who have a lot of money can have grass and trees," Strong said.
Costly water bills
Dave Trueman, manager of the Bureau of Reclamation's resources management division, concedes there may come a time when a homeowner's water bill is on par with utilities like natural gas or electricity, which will drive consumers to take larger strides in conservation.
"The value of water is changing quickly," he said. "As the value of water goes up, it will drive people to be more conscientious and we will slide toward more efficient landscapes."
For Frankel, that type of pricing for water rates would be a welcome change in Utah, where he said water is priced artificially low because it is subsidized through property and sales tax, which doesn't reward conservation.
Frankel's group offers tips for turf removal through a program called "Rip Your Strip," but it depends on people taking the initiative.
Trueman, for example, noted that he's taking out a small section of lawn at his home that he never really sees, and pondered aloud that maybe in 100 years, "the Salt Lake Valley looks like Tucson. That may be far, far in the future."
If warming temperatures and decreased water availability do give the Wasatch Front a makeover, Trueman said that may impact population increases.
"Maybe that will slow our growth in the future, as water becomes more difficult for Utah," he said. "The amount of water available to us from Mother Nature is not increasing and we have pretty much harnessed that supply."
Meanwhile, growth projections compiled by the Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget prior to the recession shows the Wasatch Front population increasing by more than a third by 2030. It is even more drastic for the southwest area of the state like Kane, Iron and Washington counties, where the population is expected to more than double.
While those projections are expected to be downgraded with new numbers due out later this year, proponents who favor projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline still insist the inevitable growth justifies building water projects to serve the future.
No more straws
Environmental groups protective of the Colorado River assert the first thing to go ought to be any additional straws in the river and its tributaries such as large-scale diversions that would reduce its flows even more.
"The Colorado River doesn't have anything left to give," said John Weisheit, conservation director of Moab-based Living Rivers. He said proposed diversions such as water for a planned nuclear power plant in Emery County, the Lake Powell Pipeline or a potash operation outside Arches National Park are banking on a water supply that isn't sustainable, he said.
"Projects like those are courting disaster," he said, and should be scrapped.
The bureau claims it is no longer practical for the Colorado River to serve as the single drink of choice for its thirsty dependents in seven states, and alternatives should be aggressively pursued.
"We are going to have to figure out ways to deal with continued growth in the face of limited water supplies," Trueman said. "You can't just build dams when there is no water to store and on the Colorado, those are pretty thoroughly developed."
The Colorado River basin states commissioned a study released in 2008 detailing the viability of importing water from adjacent drainage basins to bolster supplies of the Colorado River.
The idea is to take water where it is plentiful and move it to places where it is not.
One of four concepts explored in the Black & Veatch study done by consulting engineers was to divert water from the Bear River downstream from Smith's Fork near the Utah-Wyoming border and move it to the basin of the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River. Under one scenario, as much as 50,000 acre-feet of water could be delivered in just shy of a year.
The study concedes the mountain of hurdles that would have to be overcome — including environmental reviews, project costs and working through the complex set of interstate agreements on who owns what water and where. Its premise, however, was not to start out with what could not be done, but where excess water is available, and how to get to it.
That is where the Mississippi River could prove to be the salvation for the seven basin states in the quest for life-giving, city-growing, farm-sustaining water.
The mighty Mississippi
In the Mississippi River scenario, 675,000 acre-feet of water would be diverted from the nation's largest river downstream of where it meets up with the Ohio River. From there, the water would be conveyed via tunnel, canal and a monstrous pipe 775 miles long and 144 inches in diameter to dump into the Navajo River in southwestern Colorado.