While the El Dorado Irrigation District has water project maps collecting dust and barely mentions Alder Reservoir or Texas Hill Reservoir, there are some in Southern California who are thinking bigger, way bigger. Bigger than a peripheral canal or Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels under the Delta.
How big is way big? Try $100 billion on for size. A brochure passed out with a sly smile from retired EID general manager Harry Dunlop details an astonishing proposal by the Ralph M. Parsons Co. of Los Angeles. It is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the U.S., with revenues exceeding $3.4 billion in 2008.
Here is the Parsons plan, called the North American Water and Power Authority: “NAWAPA is a master plan concept that proposes taking advantage of the geographical and climatological factors of the North American continent in contrast to a single river basin plan. It would utilize the excess water of Alaska, the Northwest Territories and Rocky Mountain regions of Canada, and distribute it to water deficient areas of Canada, the United States and Northern Mexico in sufficient quantities to assure adequate water supplies for generations to come.”
The water would be stored up in four locations.
The headwaters of the Yukon and Tenana rivers would be dammed, creating a reservoir from extending from the vicinity of Dawson, Yukon Territory, and from Cathedral Rapids, Alaska, southeastward into British Columbia.
This first plan may not work out. The headwaters of the Yukon generally begin at Bennett, where the White Pass & Yukon Railroad makes a stop. It’s a lake that’s part of a series of lakes and it is where the Klondike gold rushers built rafts to float down the Yukon. The 500 miles between Whitehorse and Dawson are used by canoeists and kayakers in the summer and that route includes Lake la Barge made famous by Roberts W. Services’ poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee:”
So, maybe the Tenana River headwaters hold out promise.
The second proposal calls for a chain of reservoirs in northern British Columbia from damming the upper Fraser River near Prince George and connecting the reservoir behind Portage Mountain on the Peace River.
The Rocky Mountain Trench is a gorge that includes the upper reaches of the Columbia, Fraser and Kootenay rivers. Damming these rivers would create a 500-mile long reservoir that would extend to Flathead Lake in Montana.
The fourth proposal includes a series of hydro power plants in the U.S. on the Clearwater North Fork and Clearwater rivers, along with the lower reaches of the Salmon and Snake rivers in central Idaho and southeastern Washington.
The total drainage for this $100 billion water and hydro project is 1.3 million square miles collecting annual runoff of 663 million acre-feet of water.
NAWAPA could provide 110 million-250 million acre feet of water and 60-180 million kilowatts of electricity.
Besides pipelines to the arid parts of Western America, it would provide a barge canal through the province of Alberta to the Great Lakes.
Pipelines would bring 78 million acre-feet of water to Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Nevada,California, Arizona and New Mexico. Mexico would get 25 billion cubic feet of water for Baja California, Chihuahua and Sonora.
The canal to the Great Lakes would stabilize lake levels and allow water deliveries to Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
The employee-owned engineering firm estimates it would take 30 years to build the system. It would likely take 30 years just to think about building it. The most likely entity to make a start on it would be Canada, which does a better job of making use of its resources.
Annual income from the project is $4 billion a year. That would take 25 years to pay off the $100 billion, not counting interest payments.