California Pipeline Dreams
It’s no secret that California is desperate for water, so it is no surprise that they and eyeing the water in the northwest or the massive amounts of snow in the northeast. Some may say that snow is just frozen water why not truck it across the country or even easier build a pipeline from Alaska to California. These options may sound like an easy fix to the terrible drought but is it really that simple or is it a pipe dream?
This idea of building a pipeline from Alaska to California is nothing new, in the late 1980s Alaskan governor Wally Hickel dreamed up a plan to sell some of the state’s water resources. The original plan called for four 14- foot diameter pipes transferring at least 1,400 from the mouth of Alaska’s mammoth rivers to one of California’s reservoirs. California is currently running about an 11 trillion gallons of water deficit and this pipeline would have delivered about 1.3 trillion gallons of water a year. Both of Alaska rivers that were under consideration, the copper and the Stikine have outflows more than double the combined flow of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, two of California’s largest water sources. So it goes without saying that Alaska would not miss the water.
But this water would come with a hefty price. Laying the pipeline on continental shelf is a tricky job in itself, it would require armies of surveyors and tons of pipe-laying ships. In 1991 it was estimated that this project would cost $110 billion dollars and take up to 15 years to complete. The project was compared to the Panama Canal, the Trans Alaska Pipeline, and the English Channel Tunnel as far as complexity.
This was most definitely not a cheap fix to the problem, in 1991 dollars it was calculated that each gallon of water would cost at least ten times as much as other options. These alternatives included desalination, waste water reclamation, and conservation. Unfortunately the current drought is the worst it’s ever been and it doesn’t seem like it is going to get better anytime soon. On the other hand the state’s economy has grown and the tax base is about 8 million people stronger than it was 25 years ago.
Sadly even with the larger economy the pipeline to Alaska is still an inconceivable idea. The cost of Alaska water is still too great, not to mention most of the water would go to crops and agriculture not the cities. Water that expensive going to agriculture would cause economists to go crazy. Even though it is true that advancements in technology and materials has driven the project cost of the project down, its probable that environmental permitting would more than likely make up for those cuts in cost. There are also concerns about effects on the salmon population that live in these rivers and invasive species that would come along with the water.