Last month, Circle of Blue reported the rather astonishing news that “within 6 to 8 months” Texas-based S2C Global Systems will begin exporting pure Alaskan mountain water all the way to India.
Sitka, a small town located on Baranof Island off Alaska’s southeast coast, will sell the water to Alaska Resource Management for one penny per gallon. S2C and True Alaska Bottling, which has a contract for the rights to export 2.9 billion gallons (10.9 billion liters) per year from Sitka’s Blue Lake Reservoir, formed Alaska Resource Management LLC to facilitate bulk exportation.
The city will earn $US26 million per year if ARM exports its entire allocation, and more than $US90 million annually if the city can export its maximum water right of 9 billion gallons. That amount of water is enough to meet the annual domestic needs of a city of 500,000 using 50 gallons per person per day.
Sitka's “excess water” will be distributed throughout India from the company's first “World Water Hub,” the exact location of which on the country's west coast will not be disclosed for “security reasons.” From this central hub, the water will also be shipped to other markets in the Middle East and west Asia.
S2C will sell the water in “20-foot containers with flexi-tanks, which can hold up to 4,623 gallons, for pharmaceuticals and high-tech manufacturing, and 10 liter bottles for consumers” in an emerging middle class.
That the water will be diverted from some northern, water-saturated climes to distant, parched and heavily populated locales, one wonders if this future riverine system meandering through two oceans might actually be one of the tributary channels of the supposedly unrealizable megahydroproject known as the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA). Of course, instead of via concrete rivers, the water will be channeled via tanker ships.
Those who peddle in hydro-conspiracies might even reasonably believe that it's part of a wedge strategy whose aim is to realize NAWAPA in part, if not in whole. $26 million in annual revenue is a lot, especially if the Great Recession has left you cash-starved. And if Sitka does end up earning more than $90 million a year from this water trade, other towns and cities not using all their alloted freshwater quota might start getting some ideas. We could be reading about copycat schemes in no time.
In any case, we're reminded of Frederic Tudor's profitable frozen-water trade during the 19th century. As documented in Gavin Weightman's The Frozen-Water Trade, blocks of ice were harvested from frozen New England lakes during the winter, stored in ice houses and then imported to tropical markets, among them being the chief Indian ports of Bombay, Madras and Culcutta.
The first ice ship to sail to India, in 1833, started with roughly 170 tons of the frozen commodity and arrived four months later with about 100 tons left. “Frederic's ice was a sensation in Culcutta,” we read. In fact, it became a status symbol among the British colonial elite. Perhaps Sitka's bottled Alaskan water might attain a certain level of prestige among the monied and celebrity class, just as any other well-marketed bottled water.
The water trade with India peaked in 1870 when 17,000 tons of American ice were shipped over. A few years later, the first artificial ice manufacturer opened for business, and by 1882, the trade ended.
Might we optimistically expect that the new bulk water export business will similarly be undercut by a technological innovation offering a cheaper and thus more far-reaching solution to local freshwater shortages?
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