US Company Set to Ship Billions of Gallons of Water from Alaska to India


Photo via Alaskan Dude via Flickr CC

India is hurting for water. With rapidly growing populations of people and a rising middle class that is mimicking the wasteful water consumption habits well known here in the United States, coupled with poor water management practices, India is set to be one of the first parts of the world hit by a major water crisis. Still, does that mean shipping water from Alaska all the way to India is a smart solution? One Texas-based water supply management company, S2C Global Systems, thinks it is -- at least, it's smart for their bottom line, if not for the environment. They're all lined up to ship billions of gallons of water annually from an Alaskan city to India, and other parts of Asia and the Middle East. Circle of Blue brings our attention to a press release on the company's website.

Sitka, Alaska will sell water from its Blue Lake Reservoir for a penny a gallon to Alaska Resource Management, a company formed by S2C and True Alaska Bottling, will export as much as 2.9 billion gallons each year, providing the city with as much as $26 million annually. It could earn as much as $90 million annually if it can sell off the rest of its maximum water right of 9 billion gallons.

According to Circle of Blue, "This will be the world's first large-volume exports of water via tanker: companies have tried unsuccessfully for more than two decades to break open the bulk water export market. Past attempts have been thwarted by daunting logistics, concerns about natural resource sovereignty and commodification as well as the availability of cheaper local sources."

Fresh water is set to be the next "big oil" of the world, with supplies in some areas growing exceedingly tight. Technologies from smart metering to irrigation management to purification all seem to be slower to reach areas like India than tankers of exported water. However, while businesses are dashing to find a profit in water exportation, water management will need to become far more popular globally if we're to avoid a worldwide water shortage.

S2C is set to start shipping water within eight months, using tankers that have a "Ozonating" system onboard to keep the water clean. The shipping of the water alone sounds incredibly energy intensive. According to the release:

[T]his first hub will include a berth for a Suezmax vessel (156,000 cubic meters/41Million USG), an offloading system to a dedicated tank farm and a distribution complex for packaged water. Within 18 months after that we will be able to switch to a very large class vessel (302,833 cubic meters/80 Million USG), as both the ship and the berth for her will be completed within this time frame. Contracts for the distribution hub and ships are being finalized.

The company will be able to sell from its hub bulk fresh water by way of smaller ships that can deliver to shallower ports, like Umm Qasr in Iraq (located within 4 days of India's west coast). S2C will also sell fresh water in 20-foot containers with flexi-tanks (4623 USG) suitable for pharmaceutical/high tech manufacturing and packaged water (18.9 and 10L) for the consumer markets anywhere containers are delivered in south and west Asia from India.

While water exportation sounds inefficient and potentially environmentally dangerous, it is getting little opposition from Alaskans.

"It's been something we've talked about quite a bit in the community," Sitka's mayor Scott McAdams told Circle of Blue in May. "There's not a lot of opposition to it. In this borough we have 8,600 people, but we have a renewable resource of water that could meet the needs of a metropolitan area. We do have excess water."

Excess water...for now, and for the population of people in their area. But for the environment that is used to an abundance of water, how might large exportation like this impact it? Canada has also had an opportunity of water exports as a potentially profitable industry for years, but recognition of how it could negatively impact the ecosystems of the rivers and lakes from which the water is drawn has stopped forward momentum -- let alone the cost in carbon footprints. Just as is the case with energy management, smart water management could spare us from needing to haul water half way across the globe at major environmental expenses.

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Tags: Alaska | Blue August | Drinking Water | Water Crisis