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Should Californians Resurrect a Plan to Pipe in Water From Alaska?

Should Californians Resurrect a Plan to Pipe in Water From Alaska WIRED


But water never comes for free. Laying pipeline on the continental shelf is tricky business and would require armies of surveyors (and navies of pipe-laying ships). And Alaska is north, but not uphill. The pipeline would need pumping stations every 150 miles to keep the water flowing. In 1991, the now-defunct congressional Office of Technology Assessment calculated that the water pipeline would cost $110 billion dollars and take up to 15 years to complete. In the same paper, they compared the project to the Panama Canal, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and the English Channel Tunnel in terms of cost and complexity. All of which, they added, went way over budget. On the other hand, if it had taken 15 years to build in 1991, Californians would have been drinking Alaska’s Finest H20 since Justin Timberlake started bringing sexy back.

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Unfortunately: Still crazy.

“It’s just not something we’re even looking at,” says Nancy Vogel, a spokesperson for the California Department of Water Resources. Even with the extended drought and the expanded tax base, the cost of Alaskan water is too great. Partly that’s because most of the water would go to crops, not cities, so the costs would be passed on to food markets. “Having water that is this expensive go to agricultural crops is the kind of thing that would cause economists hair to go white,” says Kash. And even though advances in pipe laying logistics and materials have driven the engineering costs of the project down, it’s probable that modern environmental permitting would more than make up for those cuts in cost. “I think the biggest question would be, how does it impact fisheries?” says Andreassen. Because you know, putting a huge suction pipe at the mouth of a river doesn’t sound like it would help baby salmon get out to sea. And then there’s the question of invasive species: What kind of health risks would we face if the larvae from Alaska’s Jurassic-sized mosquito snuck into the pipe?

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