A couple weeks back I blogged about a widely published report that held that the west was entering into a prolonged drying spell. The New York Times detailed solutions being proposed & implimented that included desalination.

What was not mentioned was an idea that will be bandied about during a meeting in Calgary. That meeting will be held next week in Calgary. It addresses the idea of massive water transfers from Canada to the USA & Mexico to address water shortages. You won’t hear about it south of the border however. The only place this is mentioned is in Calgary.

April 25, 2007 April 25, 2007

Next week, government officials and academics from the three countries will gather in Calgary for the two-day North American Future 2025 Project (see page 6)where they’ll brainstorm ideas on how the continent should implement policies to deal with various challenges – including security, energy and labour.

But it’s the agenda on water that has activists concerned, given that the discussions will be held behind closed doors without public scrutiny, said Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians.

”We want this out in the light of day. We tried contacting them and they said this meeting is private,” Barlow said. ”How could it be private if it is setting up the political and policy framework for the future of North America?”

An outline of the proceedings states that climate change is expected to greatly exacerbate water shortages in the United States and Mexico while Canada, which has the world’s largest supply of fresh water in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, is not expected to suffer to the same extent.

It goes on to state that ”creative” solutions – such as water transfers and artificial diversions of fresh water – may be needed to address the ”profound changes” that are bound to occur south of the border.


Water transfers is something that’s hotly debated in Canada …(search google under Canada “bulk water”) but you don’t hear much about it in the lower 48–though President Bush has mentioned his support for the idea. Asked about the possibility of water transfers world renowned water expert Peter Gleick said the economics simply weren’t there. Mr. Gleick says.

I actually think this enormous controversy over bulk water exports is a little bit silly because no one’s going to be able to afford it,” he says.“And frankly I think some of these people who complain because they have been prohibited from doing it, I think we’ve saved them a lot of money. I think they should have been allowed to do it and go bankrupt.”

Santa Barbara looked into the idea several years back and decided on water desalination even at then current prices.

Never the less, according to a joint report entitled Global Water Futures produced by the CSIS and the Sandia National Laboratories.

Finding 5: Solutions must be innovative, revolutionary, and self-sustaining. Current
trajectories for improvement in freshwater availability and quality are inadequate to meet global
needs in a timely way. Innovative solutions must be found and employed that replace steady,
incremental rates of progress with dramatic, revolutionary changes. These solutions must be designed to be self-sustaining over the long-term.

Given the recognized urgency of the need for water solutions and the fact that the meetings are behind closed doors, it looks like much of the time & effort will be put into expediting Bush’s desire for water transfers–rather than doing any actual brain storming.

This is a shame. Especially as likely it will suck up what federal institutional energy there is behind water desalination R&D. Its especially shameful because the feds could get so much more bang for their buck out desalination R&D.

So if you happen to know someone who knows someone who is attending the meeting in Calgary next week…be sure to mention to them that basic research suggests that the cost of water desalination & transport will collapse in the next 5 to 10 years.

Here are three promising avenues of research mentioned in this blog from three different research labs.

1. Lawrence Livermore


3. University of Rochester

Here’s a strategy for turning municipal sewage into pure water and oil.

Here’s a strategy for cutting the cost of pumping water

To hasten the pace of research, I would greatly increase the amount of money available to federal university & corporate labs for water desalination research. As well, I would include DARPA in the effort to fund start up companies. Further, I would suggest three ways to focus research dollars.

The first would be to make available prize money like the X-Prize that Newt Gingrich touts as a frugal way to get the most bang for the research buck. I blog about this in a piece called harvesting research unknown unknowns.

The second suggestion would be to attack known unkowns by employing a much less publicized method of crowdsourcing scientific research which I discuss in detail here.

How does a research administrator best deploy his dollars between projects competing for research dollars? Choosing rightly between known knowns is difficult. In fast paced industries companies use something called prediction markets. I discuss this strategy here.

Finally, make plain to those in attendance that those supporting Chinatown type scenarios are going to be overwhelmed and their careers sidelined by scientific innovation. In the next 20 years there will  be more scientific innovation than the last 100 years. The best that the government can do is enable the scientists, the entrepreneurs and the corporations — and then sit tight. Water from Canada is nice but the right stuff comes from the ocean.


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  1. […] Typically companies are much more willing to do basic & applied research if the federal government chips in half the funding. Its not just the money that moves private companies to fund their research departments. Its also the federal government leadership/imprimatur. (I give a more complete list of innovative funding techniques in this blog desalination VS bulk water transfer.) […]

    Pingback by American Membrane Technology Association « Desalination Research And Development — July 27, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

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