Why Water Conservation is NOT the Answer

Water Need Not Be Scarce

Away with the idea of water scarcity!  Down with the dismal doom-sayers who claim we have no more sources of water, and the best we can hope for is "conservation".   The truth is, there is plenty of water, in abundance, if only we look in the right places.  And, there are plans, already designed, engineered, and ready to go decades ago, that would double the amount of surface fresh water in the lower 48 states of the United States, and would mean millions of additional acres of irrigated land in Canada and Mexico.

The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) was formally proposed to the U.S. Congress in 1964 by the Parsons Engineering Company.  And, had John F. Kennedy lived, there is no doubt that he would have enthusiastically supported it[1].   If we had launched it at that time, it would have been built and finished by 1990, and the entire western part of the U.S., which is still today a largely uninhabitable wasteland, would be teaming with life - animal, plant and human!

To understand the plan, it is necessary to know something about the pattern of precipitation on the North American continent.   One obvious feature is the "20 inch rainfall line", which approximately divides the United States in half.  In the eastern half, more than 20 inches of precipitation falls per year, and west of the line, the land receives less than 20 inches per year.    This is the rough demarcation line for the Great American Desert. 

Average Annual Precipitation for North America

However, a spectacular exception to this pattern occurs.    Warm, moist air coming off the Pacific Ocean blows onto the West Coast, and is raised up by the Rocky Mountain range, cooling it, and causing precipitation to fall.  In fact, very large amounts of precipitation - fully 25% of all the precipitation that falls on the North American continent, falls in a narrow strip of land up the West Coast.  It is rain in the southern latitudes, changing to snow as you go further north.  The effect of this enormous amount of precipitation is that a very large amount of water runs off through river systems back into the oceans.  The Yukon River system in Alaska and the McKenzie River system account for most of this runoff water.  So, here is one of the major sources of water for the North American continent - sparkling clean, pure, fresh water, generated by an entirely self-renewing source - but which flows almost entirely unused and untouched into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans! 

This simple fact is the basis for the North American Water And Power Alliance (NAWAPA), which proposes to divert 20% of this runoff water, and bring it south, through a series of dams, tunnel, canals and reservoirs, all the way through the western part of the U.S., and in fact, down into Mexico.   This amount of water will be plenty to solve our fresh water problems.  The Colorado River can be relieved of its over-exploitation.  The Ogallala Aquifer, the largest underground aquifer in the US, which is being severly depleted will similarly be relieved, allowing natural processes to replenish it.  And the deserts will bloom!


Canada will also greatly benefit.  Look again at the map of average annual precipitation, and you can see that the western part of Canada is just as dry as the western part of the U.S.   Part of the design of NAWAPA is to build a navigable waterway, to be called the Canadian/Great Lakes Waterway, which will bring water from the Yukon and McKenzie accumulation system across Canada via navigable waterways, all the way to the Great Lakes System.  It will mean that ocean-going vessels can come in from the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway, go through the Great Lakes, then into the Canadian/Great Lakes Waterway, and end up in Seattle on the Pacific!  The long-dreamed-of "northwest passage" sought by Lewis and Clark will become a reality.  This waterway will also replenish the Great Lakes, (whose diminishing waters are currently being jealously guarded), replacing scarcity with abundance. 

This will also greatly benefit Canada's mining industry, as well as their agriculture.   Water transport is the most inexpensive method for transporting large buld items, like mining and agricultural goods.   The Canadian/Great Lakes Waterway will become a development corridor, because of the availability of inexpensive transport to both oceans. 

The western part of the United States will be dramatically transformed.  Millions of new acres of irrigated farm land will appear, greening the previously brown landscape.  Large reservoirs will teem with fish and fowl, with plenty of opportunities for recreational fishing, hunting, camping and boating.   New cities and towns will dot the landscape, beginning to populate a currently almost uninhabited area.  The abundant new source of water will allow American to spread out its population more evenly across the whole land mass of the country. 

NAWAPA - Showing Yukon & McKenzie rivers

NAWAPA will put an end to "water wars", in which bitter mutual accusations are traded by city-dwellers and farmers: city-folks are told they use too much water in watering their lawns, and farmers are accusing of overusing irrigation water.  Why should we have such conflict, when investment in the earth's infrastructure can overcome the apparent "natural" limitations?

There is plenty of water, in fact, to bring some down into northern Mexico, which has very fertile soil, but very little rainfall.  This is a good example of the idea that "The New Name for Peace is Development".  By employing a "good neighbor" policy, in which the U.S. can assist Mexico in building some of the relevant infrastructure for NAWAPA, the deserts of Mexico can bloom.  And, this in turn begins to address the root cause of the immigration problem.  If Mexican people could prosper where they are, don't you think they would rather do that?  It is grinding, brutal poverty that provokes them to risk their lives, to escape to what they hope will be a better way of life.  Rather than investing in a 1000 mile long (or longer) new "Berlin Wall" as some have advocated, along the border with Mexico, why not invest in NAWAPA, and amicably solve the problem by addressing the actual root causes? 

Of course, the all important question is, how can such a large project be financed?  The Tennessee Valley Authority provides a model.  The TVA was launched in 1933, and built 32 hydro-electric dams along the Tennessee River, which flows through a seven state region.  The dams were multi-functional in that they were designed to do three things simultaneously: control flooding, make the river navigable, and generate hydro-electric power.  This was the largest water project ever undertaken by the United States and remains so today.  It was financed by government lending, rather than government spending.  The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) loaned $50 million to the TVA with a 50-year payback-period, and a 3 percent interest rate, for the purpose of building these dams.  Within 15 years the dams were built; within 25 years the loans were paid for, in full, and with interest!  In other words, way ahead of schedule, and here we are, 50 years later, still getting massive amounts of hydro-electric power from these dams, and the entire region was lifted from poverty to prosperity.  How much did it actually cost the Federal Government to build the TVA?  Nothing!  It paid for itself many times over.   The same will be true of NAWAPA. 

NAWAPA is estimated to be a $500 Bn investment, over a 20 year period.   Now, $500 Bn is a pretty good chunk of change, but compare it with the $85 Bn per month that the Federal Reserve is printing up out of thin air, and using to purchase worthless toxic-waste assets from the big banks, as part of the ongoing bailout of Wall Street!  If we were to stop that bailout, and instead direct it into investment into things the U.S. actually needs, we would have no problem financing such projects as NAWAPA, and lots of other things as well.   Anyone who says we can't afford to build NAWAPA, simply doesn't know what they're talking about. 

Building NAWAPA will create, conservatively, seven million jobs.   Not only directly in construction, but the bill of materials required will mean we will need to revive our steel industry, and machine tool industry.  In addition to hundreds of millions of tons of steel, NAWAPA requires billions of cubic yards of concrete, tens of thousands of pieces of earth-moving equipment, and, in order to transport all of this to the construction sites, we will need to build a railroad to Alaska.  We have currently no such railroad - there was one proposed during WWII, in the context of the U.S. supplying vast quanitites of war materiel to help our ally Russia, but it was never done.   And, once we have built a railroad to Alaska, it is only natural to think in terms of continuing on from there, to build a tunnel under the Bering Strait, as part of the proposed World Land Bridge

We can look to the FDR administration for a precedent.  Roosevelt had the Glass-Steagall Act passed, which stopped the bailout of banks launched by Herbert Hoover.  And, FDR transformed the RFC, which had actually been created by Hoover for the purpose of that bailout process, and instead, under FDR the RFC began issuing credit for the TVA and other large projects.  We can do the same thing today, starting with the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was stupidly repealed in 1999. 

The truth is, there is no shortage of water on the planet earth.  Projects similar to NAWAPA exist for Africa and Eurasia.  And when we start doing things like large scale nuclear desalination of salt water, all apparent problems with freshwater scarcity will simply vanish.  After all, most of the face of the planet is covered by water - how absurd to argue that we have no more sources of water than simply "conservation".  It is wealthy financier families who desire to create conditions of scarcity for their own profit motives, precisely by fanatically opposing investments into such progress. 

Which way will the United States go?