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San Gabriel Mountains as we fly our way out of the Los Angeles Basin
San Gabriel Mountains as we fly our way out of the Los Angeles Basin


To celebrate Earth Day, actor William Shatner has proposed a very good idea. Since there is a severe drought in California, and there is an abundance of water in other areas, why not build a pipeline to bring the water from where it is to where it is needed? Shatner says he will try to raise $30 billion dollars through Kickstarter for the project.

I really became aware of the extent of the drought when flying over the Southwest from Burbank, California to Austin,Texas. At 37,000 feet, I could make out some landmarks, a few blue reservoirs, hundreds of blue, backyard swimming pools and the lack of water everywhere else.

I was traveling to Austin, Texas to attend the Publishing University of the Independent Book Publishers of America. The “University” is an educational conference, where kindred creative and entrepreneurial spirits in publishing exchange ideas and learn from each other and experts, who are generous with their time.

Austin downtown at night overlooking Ladybird Lake

Austin is a terrific city, filled with great music and great food of every kind, including Texas barbeque. It is the site of the University of Texas, with the sophistication a University brings to a community. Austin is also in the midst of a drought. It is a growing city with a dwindling water supply and it is trying to figure out what to do.

The drought’s real impression on me was made on the way back home. My connection this time was through Las Vegas and the air route from Austin crossed the Texas panhandle, New Mexico and Nevada. Glancing out the window, it was possible to see, way in the distance, the cliffs which define the Colorado River canyons, and I was suddenly in the lands several of my audiobooks defined, except now, the area is also defined by drought.

Caves at Glen Canyon
Caves at Glen Canyon

John Wesley Powell, the first person to explore the length of the Colorado River, wrote in 1869:

“The river, sweeping around these bends, undermines the cliffs in places. Sometimes the rocks are overhanging, in other curves curious narrow glens are found. Other wonderful features are the many side canyons or gorges we pass.

On the walls and back many miles into the country numbers of monument-shaped buttes are observed. We have a curious ensemble of wonderful features – carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon.”

Don’t look for those beautiful rock formations today. They are buried under water, flooded behind the Glen Canyon Dam, as part of the Colorado River reclamation project.

The dam at Glen Canyon
The dam at Glen Canyon

They hide under a lake of water called Lake Powell, named after John Wesley Powell, who wrote about it in “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” (free preview: ).
Actually, you might see more of Glen Canyon today than last year, since the water level is down 51% of capacity due to the drought.  Off to the right hand side of the plane, I could see Lake Powell below me.

Lake Mead
Lake Mead

Downstream and out of my sight, the Colorado River flows through the spectacular Grand Canyon. Then, the Colorado empties into Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the world, created in 1936 behind Hoover Dam. It is a huge lake, with 550 miles of shoreline. Looking down from 30,000 feet, I could see small islands rising above the waterline of the lake, islands that were not visible the last time I flew over it. Here, water levels are down 36% of capacity.

Franklin D. Roosevelt inspecting Hoover Dam before his dedication
Franklin D. Roosevelt inspecting Hoover Dam before his dedication

In 1936, when dedicating Hoover Dam,  without using the word Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed:


“To divert and distribute the waters of an arid region, so that there shall be security of rights and efficiency in service, is one of the greatest problems of law and of administration to be found in any Government. The farms, the cities, the people who live along the many thousands of miles of this river and its tributaries – all of them depend upon the conservation, the regulation and the equitable division of its ever-changing water supply. What has been accomplished on the Colorado in working out such a scheme of distribution is inspiring to the whole country.”

Los Angeles, San Diego and cities and farms in between have relied on the water supply from the Colorado for 79 years. But our population has exploded since the Colorado river projects were begun.

Death Valley
Death Valley

My flight continued west as the river swerved southwest and out of sight. Now, the panorama of Death Valley was spread before us. The water here is underground and not visible. The reason for this is that the valley sits on top of one of the world’s largest aquifers, fed by the mostly underground Armargosa River and Salt creek.

Sometimes, this water is abundant enough to rise to a surface lake called Lake Manly, named after the hero, who saved a wagon train of families from certain death in the desert. Manly and a companion left the struggling wagon train to try to find a trail out of the hot valley, to safety. In his memoir “Death Valley in 1849,” which I recorded, Manly wrote:


“We seemed almost perishing for want of water, the hard exercise made us perspire so freely. In the morning we came to the dead body of Mr. Fish, lying in the hot sun. This Mr. Fish was the man who left camp two weeks before in company of another and who carried the long whiplash wound about his body in hope he could somewhere trade it for bread. No doubt in this very place where he breathed his last, his bones still lie.”
(Free preview: )

Death Valley
Death Valley
Lake Silverwood

Manly didn’t know it, but he would have to travel on foot across the desert 170 miles until he came to a ranch at Castaic Junction, where the Interstate 5 runs today. Then, with food and some water, he returned another 170 miles to save the Wagon Train.
It was as hot and dry then as it is now.


After a while, as the plane neared Los Angeles, a huge body of blue water appeared below the plane.  It was Silverwood Lake, created back in 1971 and operated by California’s Metropolitan Water District.  Silverwood Lake is the Southern terminus of the California Aqueduct, which carries water from Northern California rivers and the western slope of the Sierras to Southern California.


California operates an impressive system of reservoirs and aqueducts to redistribute water throughout the state. California citizens can all be proud of this system. But in a drought as severe as we’re having today, it still isn’t enough.

As I drove home, I had a greater appreciation of  William Shatner’s idea of creating a pipeline to bring water from the Northwest, where water is plentiful, to Southern California. “If it doesn’t rain next year, what do 20 million people in the breadbasket of the world do,” Shatner told David Pogue of Yahoo.

Actor, William Shatner
… Actor, William Shatner

“I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign. I want $30 billion… to build a pipeline like the Alaska pipeline……say from Seattle – a place where there’s a lot of water. How bad would it be to get a large, 4 foot pipeline, keep it above ground – because if it leaks, you’re irrigating…bring it down here and fill one of our lakes, Lake Mead. …they did it in Alaska – why can’t they do it along Highway 5? If I don’t make 30 billion, I’ll give the money to a politician who says “I’ll build it.” Obviously, it’s to raise awareness that something more than just closing your tap (is needed). So why not a pipeline?”

Shatner’s plan is articulating a feeling I’ve had. If there is a shortage of water, then let’s get more water. Water just might be better for California than a bullet train.

Here’s a link to Shatner’s Yahoo interview:

Andre Stojka

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