Will Canada export its fresh water or will the US just take it?

Public Domain GRAND Canal via Wikipedia

Over on Buzzfeed, Michelle Nijhuis titles a post The Forgotten Project That Could Have Saved America From Drought.

She describes the huge international plumbing job in the subhead:

The North American Water and Power Alliance was an audacious proposal to divert water to parched western states that would have cost hundreds of billions of dollars and pissed off Canada. But what if it had worked?

It indeed was audacious, and has not been forgotten; I wondered about it last year in Will the next war with Canada be a fight over water? and others south of the border haven't forgotten it either:

"For those of us who work in the water world, NAWAPA is a constant presence,” says Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute. “It’s the most grandiose water-engineering project ever conceived for North America. It’s both a monument to the ingenuity of America and a monument to the folly of the 20th century. In a sense, we measure all other ideas against it."

There was one major problem, as Chris Mims notes in a tweet:

The Canadian Ambassador to the US, Gary Doer, thinks it is a much bigger issue than, say, the Keystone Pipeline.

We’re blessed with a lot of water, but we cannot take it for granted. We have to manage it more effectively and that means waterflows south to north and north to south … There will be pressure on water quality and water quantity. I think it will make a debate about going from 85 to 86 pipelines look silly.

And not everyone in Canada is against shipping water south; In the Globe and Mail, Barrie McKenna reminds us that Tom Mulcair, now leader of the NDP with a real shot at being Canada's Prime Minister, once thought it made a lot of sense. Back when he was Environment Minister for the Province of Quebec, which drains billions of gallons of water uselessly into Hudson's Bay, noted:

“[If] I can export, and I’m capable of ensuring the sustainability of the resource, and it could bring something to the region, why wouldn’t I do it?” Mr. Mulcair told Quebec’s National Assembly. “This is a renewable natural resource, unlike a mine. … If we manage it properly, if we take care of it as we should, why can’t we even talk about it?”

Grand Canal DetailGRAND Canal via Wikipedia/Public Domain

Mulcair has evidently changed his mind, but others have not. And in fact, the NAWAPA proposal was not the only one on the table in the sixties; there was also the GRAND canal, where a big dam would be built across the top of James Bay, and all water that flowed into it from Quebec and Ontario would then be diverted south and dumping 2.5 times the volume of Niagara Falls into into the Great Lakes, which could then be shipped south. McKenna quotes a professor of environmental law, who, being located in Arizona, thinks it's all a fine idea.

Canada should arguably treat water the same way it treats oil or gold – a valuable commodity on the international market with benefits from exportation outweighing the costs of depletion...Allowing the world to access Canada’s vast water supplies in a way that is sustainable, responsible and even profitable for Canada may be part of solving the global water crisis.

To be truthful he should be noting that it is a California and Arizona crisis, not a global one. And the United States also already gets a lot of Canadian water that it could divert if it wanted to, according to a commenter at the Globe:

The bottom line is that for bulk water exports to be significant, we would have to export a river, and a big one. In fact, we already do. Several thousand cubic metres per second of water crosses the US border in the Columbia River. It is worth noting that the discharge of the Columbia River at its mouth is more than double the total water consumption of California. The Americans don't need more Canadian water to alleviate their drought; they are already getting plenty.

Canada has a lot of water, much of it just draining away to the north. Nobody knows whether the Americans will come and take it or the Canadians will sell it, but something is going to happen, whether we like it or not.

Will Canada export its fresh water or will the US just take it?
It's probably one or the other, whether Canadians like it or not.

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