Friday, January 7, 2011

NAWAPA is Back in the News

The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) system for continental water management was first proposed by the Ralph M. Parsons Company in 1964. It was an ambitious proposal to tap the excess flows from the Yukon and McKenzie River systems in Alaska and NW Canada, and through a series of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels and pumping stations will transfer this new supply all the way from NW Canada and Alaska to the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Valley to the western US and northern Mexico.

In all, the project is slated to control 4.4 billion AF of water annually, 1.5 billion of which is to be distributed and used - the US receiving 80 million AF, Canada 58 million and Mexico 20 million. The accounting is a bit fuzzy, because the printed material shows the US getting 80 million AF, while the interactive map presentation says 72 million. Either way, it’s a bucketful of water.

The collection and transfer facilities proposed are complex to say the least, but what I find most interesting is the use of the Rocky Mountain Trench – a natural gorge – as the main storage feature. The problem? All the water has to be lifted several thousand feet to use this huge bathtub. For more detail on this part of the plan, the interactive map found on the following website is recommended:

Of all this water and infrastructure, Kansas doesn’t fare too well. We end up with a fuzzy 1 million AF and no reservoirs, tunnels or canals (power). Moreover, there is no explanation of how we are to secure this water from the closest NAWAPA terminus in NE Colorado – the Colorado Reservoir - somewhere East of Denver. Of course, the good news is the Colorado reservoir is way handier to NW Kansas than anywhere else in the state – unless they choose to stop at the Ark River crossing and forego Denver.

The website presentation ends with: “Lyndon LaRouche's latest writings on a true science of physical economy, as well as supplementary video material on the LaRouchePAC website, the NAWAPA map is a challenge to the American population to imagine what kind of future is possible, if we can rise above the cultural pessimism of recent decades, in order to make NAWAPA a reality—beginning with the removal of President Obama from office.” NAWAPA won’t be political, will it?


  1. Thanks for a simple and clear explanation of such a complex and audacious proposal!

  2. Gayle: You're most welcome. I was intrigued by the proposal back in 1977 when I first began my career, but always thought the political and cultural aspects of the plan were far too complex to ever pull off. I still think this - until - water's scarcity and value will force it to happen. That won't be in my career, though. Thanks for visiting and for your kind comment.

  3. The NAWAPA Project being promoted by is a dead horse that has no reason to be resurrected.

    The diversion of Canada’s rivers into the desert southwestern United States is nothing other than the export of Canada’s freshwater wealth. This proposed megaproject is not considered to be COST EFFECTIVE. It has little political support in Canada, makes no economic sense, would have an enormous negative ecological impact, and would cause immeasurable social problems if executed. Furthermore, the Canadian position on the North American Free Trade Agreement is to exempt water exports, in part specifically to pre-empt any attempted completion of the NAWAPA project.
    More on my Blog:

  4. CFarer43: Thanks for your comments on my NAWAPA post. I never intended them to support or oppose the project - only describe it. Apparently I didn't do this as well as I might have. As I responded to Gayle above, I don't see this project going ahead anytime soon, for all the reasons you state, but I draw the line at predicting "never". I think it possible that parts of it may become feasible (politically and financially, anyway) at some tome in the future, but as you say, there will be ecological and social tradeoffs to deal with then. Thanks again for your comments and your blog posting at:

  5. Dear Wayne, You'd be interested in a design by Chuck Wojcik for flood control and aquifer recharge in the state of Kansas, posted on my Blog.

  6. Michael: Interesting proposal. Something fairly similar was proposed back in the early 1980s but was too costly. They proposed moving water from the Missouri River to 3 reservoirs in western Kansas. As I recall, it was going to cost well over $400 an AF to just get it to the terminal reservoirs. Additinal costs would be needed to distribute the water to the land, and further costs on top of that to get it rechared. They looked at a northern route and a southern route, and both were expensive. Part of that study also included a plan for Mississippi River deliveries to Kansas as well. Since there are no cost estimates to the proposal you sent along, I couldn't say how interested Kansas officials might be in it. But I'm certain that cost will be a huge factor.

    I am questioning that your project terminus - even for recharge to the Ogallala, is just to Hutchinson, KS on the very eastern edge of the High Plains Aquifer. This is the least critical area needing aquifer recharge in the state (relative to the High Plains Aquifer) so the real interest is going to be much farther west. Admittedly, it would be the easiest recharge area, but that is not what's going to drive the state's interest I'm afraid.

    We also have a water transfer act in Kansas that applies to all medium to large water moves in the state. This act goes way beyond the engineering capabilities of these projects alone, and considers the social and legal aspects as well. It'd be interesting to see how this proposal would fare under this transfer act, although I can't think of too many barriers as long as the quantities of water being moved are not too great.

    I have forwarded your link to the state water planners, as they are the decision-makers in Kansas. Thanks for the link and your comments.

  7. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for the response, which I only now finally checked. If you'd like to post this as a response to Chuck on my blog, it would be welcomed.

    I've forwarded a link to your page to Chuck to see if he has comment.

    Have you heard of the 1967 plan of Beck Engineers, titled "A NEW WATER RESOURCE PLAN FOR THE GREAT PLAINS"? It would have crossed through and supplied Western Kansas.

    I have a complete pdf, from which I paste the summary:

    Under the proposed plan of development, as shown on the cover and Figure 2, flows of the Missouri River would be diverted just downstream from Fort Randall Reservoir at an elevation of approximately 1,250 feet above sea level. The flows would be lifted through a series of dams and/or canals 200 miles up the Niobrara River in Nebraska to approximately elevation 4, 050 feet above sea level at a point just north of Alliance, Nebraska.

    From there, the entire project water would flow by gravity in a major canal running almost due south through Western Nebraska, crossing the North Platte River and passing between Sidney and Chappell, Nebraska; thence into Eastern Colorado, crossing the South Platte River above Julesburg, Frenchman Creek above Holyoke, the South Fork of the Republican River and crossing into Western Kansas above Goodland; thence generally
    along the Colorado-Kansas border crossing the Smokey Hill River to about Tribune, Kansas, where the canal would swing west to cross the Arkansas River below Lamar, Colorado; thence south to cross the Cimarron River below Boise City, Oklahoma, the North Canadian River near the Oklahoma-Texas border, the Canadian River north and west of Amarillo, Texas; thence south, crossing the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River south of Amarillo, swinging slightly south and west through the high plains of West Texas, crossing the upper reaches of the Brazos River above Lubbock and the Colorado
    River near the border.

    Source: Missouri River below Fort Randall

    Available Delivered to
    Participating Projects: 10, 200, 000 acre-feet/year average

    Pumping: Reversible turbines and pumps at dams and/or canals along Niobrara River from mouth to Box Butte Reservoir near Alliance, Nebraska. Total pumping lift = 2, 800 feet to elevation 4, 050 feet.

    Gravity: 940-mile canal from elevation 4, 050 feet in northwestern Nebraska through eastern Colorado, western Kansas, western Oklahoma and western Texas to elevation 3, 660 feet near Pecos River in New Mexico. Canal capacity at beginning of project = 17,000 cfs.

  8. Wayne: I’m in agreement with all of your concerns. So let’s look at some of them.

    1.) Financial justification of my proposal is out of my field of experience. However, since the 1980’s the potential use of nuclear power has come into the picture. This could result in stand-alone pumping stations that would not require heavy-duty electric, gas or oil supply systems. Perhaps reduced installation and operating costs would make the proposal more viable.

    2.) Termination of the raw water pipeline at the Arkansas River, in the Hutchinson vicinity, seems like a good spot to program raw water into the Arkansas River and to build a world- class water purification plant to process water before discharging it into the Ogallala Aquifer. You’re right that that particular location might not be the best injection location. Perhaps a pipeline sized to handle the output of the purification plant needs to be run directly west with injection points along the way to the middle of the aquifer.

    3.) The other point that I want to address is your concern that the northern part of the aquifer is in greater need of replenishment. If this is so, perhaps it would be desirable to build a water filtration plant at the Ft. Randall Dam in South Dakota and discharge back flush into the Missouri River. Again, the processed water could be pumped and piped south into the heart of the northern section of the Ogallala Aquifer. This is a project that is doable and could be completed in a relatively short time.

    Whatever would work in the Ft. Randall Dam area would work in the Hutchinson, KS area and vice versa.

    The way things are going with droughts, dust storms, aquifer depletion, rising prices at the dinner table; the question probably should not be can we afford to do it, but rather, can we afford not to do it.