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Let's imagine America some years in the future where technology has advanced to the point where we can easily create a nation wide underground aqueduct system. Pavement is porous and allows a certain amount of water to seep through it into the aqueduct system. The sewers are designed so that the water can flow directly into the aqueduct. And if the weather is too severe, tanker train cars that can haul away the water to be dumped directly into the aqueduct system. The reason for this is because if it has to go to the water plant first, it risks clogging up the entire system, and still having too much water overall. Anyone in any part of the country can draw from the aqueduct system, with the understanding that any water drawn out needs to be cleaned first.

The big picture benefits are easy to see for me: anywhere there's drought would be able to get water. Anywhere there's flooding would have much less problems, and sometimes none at all.

Maybe I'm missing something on the benefits

But what would the problems be outside water rights disoutes?

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  • $\begingroup$ In light of Li Zhi's objections to porous roads, do they have to be porous? Why not just have drains at the sides of the roads, and any water that land on the road would flow down the drains. $\endgroup$ – colmde Feb 20 '17 at 11:09
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A major issue is the geography of North America. The continent is divided among a number of watersheds, where water naturally flows towards a particular ocean (or in the case of the Great Basin, trapped). An aquaduct system crossing the continent would have to cross one or more watersheds would have to essentially lift the water over a mountain range in order to have the water cross the watershed and into the the new watershed.

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North American Watersheds

This would require a massive engineering project, not just the system of canals and raised aqueducts, but also pumps, holding basins and water control gates and sluiceways to control the flow of water. Since much of North America, outside of the "Great American Desert" in the wind shadow of the Rocky mountains is well watered, the sorts of projects that the Army Corps of Engineers and civilian contractors already excel at (building dams and catchments to control water flow) already serve millions of people, I'm not entirely clear what benefits an aqueduct crossing the continent would serve.

Some past proposals for megaprojects, like the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWPA) proposed diverting the rivers running into the arctic back towards the continental interior sound similar to what you are suggesting. One issue is the sheer scale of the project, the interior of British Columbia would essentially be flooded as a reservoir (and if the project started in 1960, the reservoir would finally have filled in 1990....

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Map outlining the proposed NAWPA canal systems

On a slightly more sensible scale (if that can even be applied to continental sized mega engineering projects) is a proposal by Scott Lowther to refill the Ogalalla Aquifer. Since the aquifer supplies irrigation water to a large segment of the American breadbasket, keeping it topped up does seem to be an important long term project. Once again, the plan can be done without continent spanning aqueducts, just a local series of pipelines from the Mississippi river:

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Ogalalla Aquifer

So there are some possibilities to create giant megaprojects to move water around North America, for the most part, the Americas are well supplied with water, and certainly the need for these projects have never been established to the point where any shovels have gone into the ground.

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  • $\begingroup$ The need for such a system may be in the very near future with climate change and all. With such an eventuality, it might be useful to talk about it from a fictional standpoint to get people to start thinking about the need. $\endgroup$ – Jesse Cohoon Feb 19 '17 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ Re "giant megaprojects to move water around", you seem to have forgotten about California :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 20 '17 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Yep, NAWAPA was just a scheme for California to grab more water. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Feb 20 '17 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Spencer: What I meant was that California HAS built a giant megaproject (or a series of interconnected projects) to move water around. Parts of it are en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_State_Water_Project en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Valley_Project en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Aqueduct $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 21 '17 at 5:06
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Problems:

  1. The water may be available in Maine but needed in California.

  2. The "porous roads" idea is, as far as I know, fantasy.

  3. How do you keep the system from leaking?
  4. How do you keep the system clean?
  5. How could a "porous road" possibly keep itself clean?
  6. How could such a road be kept mechanically/physically intact?
  7. Moving mass from point A to point B requires energy. Where are you getting this from?
  8. Moving a fluid from A to B requires the aquaduct be kept primed. What volume of water would be needed just to keep the thing partially filled (do the math).
  9. Tank cars?? LOL. embarrassing. A tank car must carry less than 35,000 gallons. 1 meter deep pool 11.4 x 11.4 meters = 1 tank car. So, for just a single km² of water 1 m deep, you'd need 7650 cars (plus a magic rail line which floats above flood level). Not to mention where/how you'd fill them.
  10. A modern high-speed highway isn't something that lasts very long (although the Europeans do a better job than we do on that). A porous road would probably fail in weeks or months, or require enormous upkeep.
  11. The last mile problem. That is, distribution of the water. To have sufficient flow to where it's needed, you need sufficient flow everywhere. (arguably) This is like having ALL the wiring in your home 8 gauge, simply because your furnace needs it. Such a system is wildly uneconomical.
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  • $\begingroup$ The porous roads actually is something that currently exists, but usually is reserved for such things as parking lots. It's made such that the water doesn't "puddle" so much. I keep current on environmental building (I'm in the construction industry, which is why i happen to know this) $\endgroup$ – Jesse Cohoon Feb 19 '17 at 19:20

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