My Turn: Alaska can save Calif. from drought

  • By STEVE BOWHAY
  • Thursday, October 22, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

Well, here we go again, one more spin on the merry-go-round. As the special session is set to begin on the gas line Saturday, the lack of revenue is bound to take over the conversation.

Recent developments with Shell, halting exploration after investing $7 billion, is very disappointing. But the announcement from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell halting all lease sales offshore in the Arctic throws a bucket of cold water on the idea of oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge filling the pipeline once again.

We are not the only ones on the verge of a crisis. In March, NASA released data showing California only had 12 months of water left in its supply reservoirs, including ground water. Now, thousands of California homes are already without running water. If NASA is right and the drought continues, millions of Californians will have to abandon their homes and they will become drought refugees. This is the time to look for answers for both Alaska and California, and it may just be water.

Recent reports from California show this year the drought cost their economy $3 billion, and now they have pumped so much ground water that parts of the Central Valley are subsiding two feet per month, according to NASA. This has prompted emergency regulations on pumping so the agriculture economy will take a huge hit next year. It is estimated that 11 trillion gallons of water is pumped out of the ground each year and it has not been replaced by nature for more than 12 years.

The cost of water is calculated per acre foot (total amount of water that would cover one acre at one-foot deep is about 350,000 gallons). In California, the wholesale cost of water from desalination is just over $2,000 per acre foot. The largest plant in the U.S. is slated to open in 2016, costing $1 billion to build over four years. That is after more than six years of permitting and several lawsuits. It will only support 330,000 people. It would take 100 of these $1 billion plants to serve the more than 35 million people who live in California, with no water provided for agriculture.

All things being equal, we all know as Americans that we will not let the people of California die and it is a lot easier to move water to California than to move California to the water. If NASA is correct, it may already be too late to stop the disaster from happening, but there is time to make sure it is as short as possible.

Alaska, on the other hand, has too much freshwater flowing into the Ocean. Right here in Southeast Alaska, there is so much freshwater floating on top of the ocean that it is damaging some ecosystems, according to recent studies by NOAA. When you have supply in one area and a demand in another, all you face is a transportation hurdle. Things have changed since Gov. Wally Hickle went to California and proposed his waterline. New materials have been developed and technology has advanced so much that the hurdle of transportation has been greatly minimized.

Maybe we should think about an X-Game-type contest with a large payout for the most environmentally sound and profitable method of moving Alaska water to California. Water is the one resource we have that no other area on the west coast has an abundance of. The oil cartel won’t undercut us and maybe we can stop going in circles.

With Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as chairperson of the Energy and Natural Resource committee, we could possibly secure a guaranteed market through the rescue plan being constructed in Congress. This could include a finance plan for construction of a water connivance system.

According to data released by NASA, California has accumulated a water deficit in their aquifers of over 100 trillion gallons of water, at desalination prices that are over $600 billion just to replace that water.

With the development of the hydrogen fuel cell, the price of water is going to rise while the price of oil and gas falls. Protect Alaska’s future and tell your legislators to say yes to water.

• Steve Bowhay is a Juneau resident concerned about the budget deficit and a conservationist concerned about the environment.

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