Should We Ship Bulk Water Internationally? Industry's Challenges Buy Time for Debate

alaska calm lake photo

Photo via jesse.millan via Flickr CC

Last week, we caught word that a Texas-based company was getting set to ship billions of gallons of water from Alaska to parched areas of Asia and Africa, at what looks to be the start of a growing global trade in fresh water supplies. S2C Global was finalizing plans, with hopes to start shipments by early next year. However, there seems to be a hitch in the plans, and major hurdles including building permits for piping infrastructure and a lack of financial resources, could push back start dates. While a set-back for the company, perhaps this could buy time for bringing mainstream attention to the idea global water shipments and the potential impacts of such an industry getting off the ground. Circle of Blue reports that while S2C's president, Rod Bartlett, is not providing information beyond what is in the press releases, there seems to be some clear indications that this project may be more than the small-ish company can handle. For example, S2C has only five employees and is considered a penny stock company, which means it is a risky investment and has trading restrictions. However, the company estimates that it will cost around $45 million to build the water hub in Sitka, Alaska for exporting water, and they aren't sure how they're going to drum up the money. Operating at a loss of $5.2 million since incorporation in 2004 and earning no revenue at all in the 12 month period of 2009, it seems that the company is going to have some serious challenges to overcome before bulk shipments become a reality.

What does this mean for the budding industry of global water shipments?

The news of S2C's attempts at getting a trade going -- especially out of Alaska, a state with a lot of attention on it in terms of environmental issues -- helps to put the idea of selling and shipping fresh water supplies around the globe on the map. The conversation and debate about whether or not it is a smart idea to to drain water-rich areas of their supplies and send it off to arid places with rapidly growing populations is soon to hit mainstream consciousness, especially as the water crisis in places like India, China and Africa worsen.

Water is a resource nothing on the planet can live without, and that makes it a precious and highly valuable asset. Countries who have it will inevitably find it an increasingly valuable resource and may look to exploit it. Countries without may find that buying fresh water from other countries could be cheaper and easier than investing in water conservation and generation technology.

More companies like S2C will hit the radar, looking to turn fresh water shipments into a lucrative business, and so the conversation will have to shift to the environmental impacts of massive movement of water around the planet.

Alaska has a vast amount of fresh water supplies, but for a reason. The ecosystem relies upon and is adapted to certain conditions, including an abundance of fresh water. As it is siphoned off to become a commodity for consumers half way across the globe, what changes will the ecosystem endure, and what unintended consequences will we see? What might be the long term impacts for Americans living in areas with water shortages who may one day need assistance from Alaska or the Great Lakes region?

There are innumerable questions to be asked, with answers that will require significant input from scientists, ecologists, economists and other experts. And there are possibilities to be explored for alternative options for countries needing new fresh water sources that don't include hauling it around the planet on tankers.

If anything, the hurdles in front of S2C for getting their business rolling buys time for these questions to be asked and important conversations to get started on a wider scale.

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