National Commentary

The Biggest Water Project

bentonmugAs the unemployment rate approaches 10 percent in the U.S., prospects appear clearer that the world faces a deep and persisting economic malaise, the consequence of a combined on-going deflation of impossibly-bloated leveraging instruments and the demise, maybe forever, of frenzied consumer spending habits.

The Obama administration’s concept of retooling economic fundamentals away from speculation and consumerism toward solid growth in infrastructure and education has been sound, but getting from here to there will hardly be quick or easy.

It’s that basic shift that must remain the focus and key to the administration’s so-called “stimulus” policy, and not just a stop-gap approach that counts on the eventual return to health of the old economic model.

There needs to be public works programs, or the use of a public-private model, that create massive legions of new jobs by ending the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels, improving the environment by redressing the effects of global warming and fixing the world’s most imminent natural resources crisis: a shortage of fresh water.

One such program sits gathering dust on shelves all over the southwestern U.S. I know, because I promoted and distributed information on the program myself, in cahoots with the former U.S. Senator from Utah, Frank Moss (1911-2003), in the early 1980s.

It is the biggest water diversion project ever, the plans for which were arduously researched and developed by the Ralph Parsons Engineering Company of Southern California in the 1960s, which called it the “North American Water and Power Alliance,” or NAWAPA for short.

In summary, NAWAPA involves tapping fresh water from the northern-flowing rivers of northwest Canada and Alaska, and diverting them in a southward direction through a series of canals, lifts and drops through the Canadian Rockies and eventually to destinations in the arid regions of Southern California, Arizona and Northern Mexico.

The project would be massive, and would require amazing cooperation between the Canadians and the U.S. There’s an extraordinary volume of fresh water that flows out of those northern rivers into the Arctic and Northern Pacific, serving no good purpose to either humanity or the environment.

Unfortunately, the Parsons Company, a highly accomplished and credible outfit, rolled out its vision just around the same time that the fossil fuel industry reasserted its influence over American political and cultural life, shutting down nuclear power, the alternative energies that first emerged seriously in the 1970s, and hydro-electric power, generating large-scale water diversion projects.

Now, just as the nation is beginning to wake up to how it was bamboozled by Big Oil on the nuclear energy question, it is time to revisit, as well, water diversion options that were suddenly shelved 40 years ago.

Sen. Moss actually held a series of U.S. Senate hearings on NAWAPA. Published transcripts of those hearings are about all of the project that survived that era, that along with a 15-minute film that the Parsons Company produced.

Here’s what NAWAPA would do, if the effort was put into getting it built in the spirit of the WPA projects of the Great Depression era:

1. Tens of thousands of jobs would be created that would last for years while the project is constructed.

2. Fresh water would be deployed to arid regions of the Southwestern U.S. that would be used for irrigating crops, whose proliferation would cool the planet and create added rainfall.

3. Massive amounts of surplus, clean hydro-electric power, beyond that tapped to drive NAWAPA, itself, would light up whole regions of the West.

4. As the world’s fast-emerging most scarce resource, an abundance of new resources of fresh water would be tapped and effectively deployed to avert shortages.

In all my years of promoting this plan with Sen. Moss, I never heard one credible argument about why NAWAPA would not work, why it would not achieve the objectives just laid out here. It is the perfect fit for the kind of infrastructure development the new Obama administration says it wants to see happen.