Can Ships Carrying Water from Alaska Save California?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Hey, where’s California’s Alaska water?

Back in March, Alaska Bulk Water Inc. sent a letter (pdf) to Garry White, executive director of Gary Paxton Industrial Park in Sitka, Alaska, seeking to arrange temporary storage space for massive amounts of water it would be contracting to sell in April to interested parties in California.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had issued permits and construction was beginning on a facility in Silver Bay that would load 10 million gallons of fresh water on tanker ships for the journey south. The station was expected to be completed in June or July and shipments would commence immediately.

That didn’t happen.  

But last week, USA Today ran a story that Alaska Bulk Water CEO Terry Trapp was this close to bringing the complex deal together and would begin making shipments by the end of the year. “We have met with many of the municipalities and industries in California and many of them would like to have our Alaska water,” Trapp said.

His company has rights to 9 billion gallons of water in Sitka’s Blue Lake. Sitka gets around 100 inches of rain a year and has had an excess of water since the water-intensive mill of Alaska Pulp Corporation shut down in 1993. There is so much water, the city doesn’t bother metering homes. It’s so clean, no filtration is necessary.

One can almost hear thirsty Californians salivating at the prospect, but it might be advisable for them to preserve their precious bodily fluids.

Alaska Bulk Water has been trying to get this project off the ground for at least a decade, according to an upbeat story last April in the Alaska Dispatch News. It had formerly been the True Alaska Bottling Company, one of many failed bottlers in an industry the Dispatch News described as “moribund.”  

Alaskans have been trying to save California’s every-crispier bacon for decades. Alaska’s Republican Governor Wally Hickel, who later served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in President Richard Nixon’s cabinet, advocated for 50 years building an ocean pipeline to carry water to California.

Four years before its demise in 1995, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated the pipeline would take 15 years to build and cost $150 billion. The project was likened in complexity to a combination of the Panama Canal, English Channel Tunnel and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Alaskans were also talking about tanker ships, as well as tugboats towing ginormous nylon bags filled with millions of gallons of fresh water to California.  

Trapp told the Dispatch News the biggest hangup was lack of infrastructure in California for receiving and distributing the water. They are ready to go in Sitka. Emily Kwong of Alaska Public Media station KCAW described the preparations:

“Sitka already built the infrastructure to draw the water from the lake to the shore. It’s behind us—a giant red nozzle poking up out of the ground. From there, a floating pipeline will carry the water into containers or bags loaded on big cargo ships.”

But if California can’t get its act together, there are thirsty nations interested in importing Alaskan water. TreeHuggers reported in 2010 that Texas-based water supply management company S2C Global Systems and its partner, True Alaska Bottling (now Blue Water), were poised to begin shipping Alaskan water to parched India, Asia and the Middle East.  

They didn’t quite make it.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Company Aims to Ship Fresh Water from Alaska to Drought-Plagued California (by Doyle Rice, USA Today)

Long-Anticipated Bulk Water Exports from Sitka to Start This Summer, Businessman Says (by Yereth Rosen, Alaska Dispatch News)

Thirsty California a Potential Market for Bulk Water (by Emily Kwong, KCAW)

US Company Set to Ship Billions of Gallons of Water from Alaska to India (by Jaymi Heimbuch, TreeHugger)

Alaska Water Idea Is Still High And Dry (by Hugh Dellios, Chicago Tribune)

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