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1/13/2005

Rethinking Water Exports

Canada is enjoying a rather welcome turn as a fairly well managed economy with ample natural resources including, in the tar sands of Alberta, a great whack of geo-politically stable oil.

Playing to strength has never been a particular talent of Canada's policy makers however, they may have an opportunity to make a smart move with water exports.

For years the idea of exporting Canada's water has filled lefties with shock and dismay. They are convinced that all we would be doing is letting our American friends create more Cadilac desert suburbs in the Southwest. Well, maybe - but the water trade is about to become international in a very big way.

The Chinese have been shopping for Canadian oil assets and finding them. But oil is only one pressing need. The other is water,

Huang called growing pressure on dwindling water supplies China's "Achilles heel," saying that wouldn't be solved by projects under way to pump water from the relatively wet south and west to the arid north.

The struggle for water will lead to "a fight between rural interests, urban interests and industrial interests on who gets water in China," Huang said, adding 75 percent of China's rivers are too polluted to drink, fish in, or even use for irrigation.
yukon huang, ap
Somehow, Canada needs to find something to sell China in exchange for all of those items we are addicted to purchasing in Dollar stores. (Not to mention in virtually every other store.)

The one thing we have that China needs is good, clean, fresh water in abundance. Water shortages are experienced in 400 of the 700 largest Chinese cities. The Chinese are investing billions of dollars in projects which seek to divert water to where it is needed.
The project to divert water from the Yangtze River to China's drought-ridden northern areas is a mammoth water conservancy scheme, larger even than the Three Gorges Project.

The project is expected to require an investment of 486 billion yuan (US$59 billion), twice the cost of the Three Gorges Project. Once the project is completed, up to 44.8 billion cubic meters of water, about the average annual volume of the Yellow River, will be diverted through three canals to the north.
Xinhua News Agency
For a fraction of that amount a huge quantity of Canadian water could be transported to China. The fresh water resources of British Columbia alone are huge. Literally millions of gallons a second is flowing out of the Fraser River as I write. And that is just one river. We have hundreds as you go up coast.

Water is obviously not as dear as oil; but it also does not involve a great deal of infrastructure to transport it. Single hull tankers would do the job. So would really big plastic bags towed by ocean going tug. How big?
Only a few years ago paper studies by James Cran of the Canadian-based Medusa Corporation, one of the
four groups developing the technology, suggested that a bag with the capacity of five supertankers could be constructed for about 1.25% of the cost. Nor is there anything special about the towing unit. With certain modifications conventional tugs can be used, or the type of vessel used for servicing off-shore oil platforms.
medusa water international
The point is that there is a market for a commodity which Canada has a lot of and that market is growing. China is just one fast developing nation with water problems, there are plenty of others.

Now, any bets on who the first, corageous, Canadian politician to suggest an end to our moratorium on bulk water exports will be? I thought not.