I have posted about these before: NAWAPA (North American Water And Power Alliance) as reincarnated by the LaRouche gang; the original NAWAPA; and even an April Fools' Day version of LaRouche's NAWAPA boondoggle.
I had heard of NAWAPA as a graduate student in the early 1970s. But several years ago, a friend sent me information (a PowerPoint) that a Canadian, Romain Audet, had sent him about NARA (North American Recycling Alliance), a plan that would dam James Bay to create a large freshwater lake from which water could be sent south via Lake Superior. One thing I found odd - according to the number included in Audet's analysis, the Canadians would be selling water to the USA for under $200 an acre-foot. Talk about highway robbery - on our part, not theirs!
I never really knew who devised the NARA scheme. For some reason, I wasn't sure it was Audet's alone. Then I received a Tweet from Water On The Table that led me to Richard (Rick) Mills' site, Ahead of the Herd, where I found the post Whisky Is For Drinking...I scrolled down, and found this (I added the links and emboldening):
The Great Recycling and Northern Development (GRAND) Canal of North America (GCNA) was designed by Newfoundland engineer Thomas Kierans to alleviate North America’s freshwater shortage problems. As Kierans originally conceived it [in 1959], the GRAND Canal plans called for the damming and rerouting of northern river systems in Quebec in order to bring freshwater down into the Great Lakes where the water could then be
pumped into the American Midwest and the U.S. Sun Belt.
Fresh water run-off from natural precipitation would be collected in James Bay by means of a series of outflow-only, sea level dikes-constructed across the northern end of James Bay. These dikes would capture the fresh water before it mixes with the salty water of Hudson Bay and create a new source of fresh water equivalent to 2.5 times the flow over Niagara Falls.
The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) was designed to bring water from Alaska and northern British Columbia to the U.S. By building a series of large dams, the northward flow of the Yukon, Peace, Liard, Tanana, Copper, Skeena, Bella Coola, Dean, Chilcotin, and Fraser rivers would be reversed to move southward into the Rocky Mountain Trench where the water would be trapped in a giant reservoir approximately 800 kilometers long.
A canal would then be built to take the water southward into Washington state where it would be channeled through existing canals and pipelines. The annual volume of water to be diverted through the NAWAPA project is estimated to be roughly equivalent to the average total yearly discharge of the entire St. Lawrence River system in Canada. The amount of water available is estimated to be enough that some would be available for use by Mexico via the Colorado River.
The Central North American Water Project (CeNAWAP) consists of a series of canals and pumping stations linking Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake in the NWT to Lake Athabaska and lake Winnipeg and then the Great Lakes.
A variation on the CeNAWAP is the Kuiper Diversion Scheme which links the major western rivers, the Mackenzie, the Peace, the Athabasca, North Saskatchewan, Nelson and Churchill rivers, into a mega water diversion scheme.
The principal’s of these three water diversion projects are the same, except on a much grander scale, as that of the 1930s Tennessee Valley Authority or the 1950s St. Lawrence Seaway. Between them, they could supply hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water to the parched areas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. New areas of cultivation would be opened up, thousands of jobs would be created and new dams would supply unimaginable amounts of electricity.
Mark Twain said "Whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
Of course he also said, "I've seen a heap of trouble in my life and most of it never came to pass."
Fortunately water seems to stimulate cooperation rather than promote conflict between nations.
The issue of Canada diverting part of its fresh water resources to the US has never been on, or has long since faded off most Canadians radar screens, but the country with the world’s largest economy is also the world’s largest producer of corn, soybeans, and wheat. The US accounts for one in every three tons of the grains traded globally - the United States is literally the world’s bread basket.
Climate change (science says the Earth is going to continue warm and that the warming is not manmade) is going to put Canadian water back on every North American’s radar screen. Is water on your radar screen?
If not, maybe it should be.
According to Kierans, the most important difference between the two proposals is that the GRAND Canal proposes that a new source of fresh water to be added to the system whereas with NAWAPA only existing water flows will be collected and diverted and no new water will be added. The GRAND Canal proposes that fresh water from a new James Bay reservoir be added to the Great Lakes and then transferred to the Canadian west and to the American Southwest. More fresh water will be available to North Americans.
With the NAWAPA diversionary plan, no new fresh water will be added to the system. NAWAPA proposes to dam mostly Canadian rivers to create massive new reservoirs and then divert the water to drought afflicted regions, mostly in the American Southwest. Only existing sources of fresh water will be collected and redirected. By necessity and by plan, NAWAPA will deprive some areas (mostly in Canada) that now have water, and flood other areas for reservoirs (also mostly in Canada) where at the present time no water flows. The ultimate recipients of the NAWAPA water will for the most part be in the American Southwest. Aside from being tremendously expensive to build and operate, NAWAPA will have massive and yet to be determined environmental impacts. Abundant animal and vegetable life will be damaged and destroyed. Populations of human and other species will have to be relocated.
The GRAND Canal proposes no such flooding or diversion. The new water will collected in existing reservoirs (James Bay and the Great Lakes) and flow along existing or new man-made and environmentally friendly waterways to existing reservoirs or aquifers. Nature will be respected and environmental impacts will be kept to a minimum.
Interesting contrasts. Kierans also p[resented this tabular version (from Wikipedia) along with a map of the two plans:
|The GRAND Canal||NAWAPA|
|1. Basic proposal: Recycling of fresh water at point where it would otherwise be lost to Hudson Bay/Arctic Ocean. New source of fresh water 2.5 X Niagara Falls transferred to American Southwest and Canadian West.||1. Basic proposal: Damming and diverting existing rivers from Alaska and Northern Canada to the American Southwest. No new water source created.|
|2. Use of existing reservoirs (James Bay, Great Lakes). No flooding to create new reservoirs.||2. Massive flooding of mountain valleys to create new reservoirs. Displacement of populations.|
|3. No diverting of water away from where it now flows.||3. Massive diversion and rerouting of rivers. Downstream locations deprived of water.|
|4. Cost: $100 billion repaid in 2 years. Cost of pumping water offset by peak power sales. As with the St. Lawrence Seaway, each country pays for part of construction on its own soil.||4. Cost: Enormous. Impossible to accurately estimate. Would required revamping of economy. Complex sharing of cost arrangements between Canada and U.S. necessary.|
|5. Technology (see Zuider Zee and the California Aqueduct) existing for over a hundred years. Construction could start tomorrow.||5. Technology. The size and complexity of the scheme makes the project many years away from being realizable. Delay of drought solution costly|
|6. Canada/U.S. international agreement: Simple scheme whereby Canada sells water from the newly created source and a renewable natural resource, to the United States for agreed upon price. Similar to the sale of electrical energy.||6. Canada/U.S. international agreement: Very complex, and unclear how Canada will be compensated for its water (if at all) – most of which will be shipped to the southwestern states. Negotiations could take decades.|
|7. Precedents. Many precedents, including NORAD and St. Lawrence Seaway, of this type of Canada/U.S. co-operation.||7. Precedents. No precedents for this type of co-operation where one country suffers environmentally for the almost exclusive benefit of the other.|
As Kierans saw it, the GCNA 'adds' new water to the system and requires no new reservoirs, whereas the NAWAPA project diverts existing flows and requires reservoirs. Of course, taking water that would normally flow into James Bay is going to cause other problems. These are listed in Wikipedia:
- Later ice formation, and earlier ice breakup outside the dike corresponding to an opposite change in the fresh waters inside;
- Diminished ecological productivity, possibly as far away as the Labrador Sea;
- Fewer nutrients being deposited into Hudson Bay during spring melts;
- Removal of James Bay's dampening effect on tidal and wind disturbances; and
- Adversely affected migratory bird populations
Other problems are listed as well.
There is even a conspiracy theory, believing that this was a plot to end Canadian sovereignty and force a union with the USA and Mexico.
I will close with this entry from Wikipedia:
Kierans argues recycling run-off from a dike-enclosure in Canada’s James Bay is not harmful and can bring both nations many useful benefits including:
- More fresh water for Canada and the United States to stabilize Great Lakes/St. Lawrence water levels and to relieve water shortages and droughts in western Canada and in the south-west U.S. and in particular to halt the depletion and start the replenishment of the Ogallala Aquifer (see water export);
- Improved fisheries and shipping in Hudson Bay. Oceanographer Professor Max Dunbar pointed out in his paper "Hudson Bay has too much fresh water" that as a result of its low salinity Hudson Bay currently "offers no possibilities for commercial fisheries". By recycling the fresh water run-off from James Bay south to the Great Lakes and away from Hudson's Bay the GRAND Canal will increase Hudson Bay’s now harmfully low salinity and consequently improve the commercial fisheries. Increasing the salinity of Hudson Bay will also have the benefit of reducing the freeze-over period during the winter and thereby lengthen the navigation season in Hudson Bay;
- Improved Great Lakes water quality due to the increased flows;
- Increased electricity available for alternate uses and lowered user cost of electricity by integrating water transfer energy needs with peak power demand;
- Enhanced flood controls;
- Improved forest fire protection for both nations;
- The construction and operation of the GCNA would provide economic stimulus to create employment and avoid recession. This would be similar to the economic stimulus that the Tennessee Valley Authority development and other public works had in the 1930s to start the recovery from the Great Depression.
The GRAND Canal proposal attracted the attention of former Québec premier Robert Bourassa and former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney. By 1985, Bourassa [with Kierans in this photo, on the right] and several major engineering companies endorsed detailed GRAND Canal concept studies; however, these concept studies have not proceeded because, as Kierans says: "...some misinformed environmentalists and news media refuse to accept the proven Netherlands and California recycled run-off projects.” Further, they refuse to acknowledge the fundamental differences between NAWAPA's (North American Water And Power Alliance) harmful 'headwater diversion' and the environmentally friendly 'recycled run-off' of the GRAND Canal (see map and table above and Cadillac Desert). Unfortunately, their political influence continues to block Canadian government support for the urgently needed detailed studies of recycled run-off from James Bay. Until the Canadian Government supports such studies, drought and freshwater quality in Canada and the U.S. will continue to worsen.”
I could go on, but it's time to move on.
From my perspective, Kierans' plan and NAWAPA are similar in the sense that both share a common premise: that freshwater flowing to the sea is 'wasted' and should be used by humans. That belief was common when these plans were devised in the 1950s and 1960s. I recall hearing the same thing from some of my professors in the early 1970s - that letting the Columbia River discharge all that freshwater to the Pacific Ocean was a 'waste' and should be 'harvested' by humans. In that case, 'harvested' meant shipping the water to the desert Southwest.
I am reminded of what I once heard Bob Hirsch of the USGS say: that when he was taking hydrology courses, the question was, 'How much water can we take out of the river?', but today, it's 'How much water must we leave in the river?'
Thank heavens for that change!
And I finally learned why the 'R' in the acronym NARA (which is supposedly similar to the Sanskrit word for 'water') means 'recycling'. The project 'recycles' runoff that would be headed to James Bay. Sounds kind of innocuous and environmentally-friendly, right?
But GCNA, NAWAPA, and NARA make for fascinating reading nonetheless!
"To Mr. Kierans, A Canadian with an extraordinary vision for the good of his country. With all my gratitude." - Robert Bourassa, Quebec Premier,16 April 1985