SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


How The World Wags

And Not A Drop to Drink
By Dave Kiffer


November 21, 2005

Stop the presses! The hydrologists and meteorogists and fearmongerologists say the western United States is running out of water.

As I write this, I am staring out the window at soggy Salmon City's 30th consecutive day of rain.

Sure, no one is building an Ark yet, but you have to admit this has been one of the poorest Falls in recent memory as far as the relentless Chinese Water Torture goes (drip, drip, drippity, drip).

If you believe what you read in the other media, we've had about 165 inches of rain this year. That's an average amount of rainfall for Ketchikan. Of course, we still have six precipitous weeks to go in 2005, so I suspect that history will regard this year as a "wet" one.

gif drought patrol

Drought Patrol
Brian Fairrington, Cagle Cartoons
Distributed to subscribers by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

I wasn't alive for the big drizzle in 1949 when more than 200 inches of rain fell. And I was out of town for a sun-drenched year in the early 1980s when barely 80 inches was recorded (but I did take some 30 inches of rain with me to Lost Angeles that year).

I was here a few years back when the airport rain gauge overflowed at 185 inches. And that was at the airport where we know it doesn't rain "nearly as much" as on this side of the channel. At any rate, that year was a "wet" one too.

Amidst our local sogginess, it does seem ironic to read that the most recent warning (in the scientific journal Nature) projects that because of declining snow packs, there will be 30 percent less water to go around in the great Southwest by 2050.

So far so good.

Not of course for our Western brethren, but it provides a rain-slicked window of opportunity for us.

Remember when they called us "Blue eyed Arabs" when the oil pipeline was new? Imagine the pejoratives that will fly when they are all out of water. And we will still have plenty. I once read that Ketchikan's needs amount to about 35 inches of rain a year. You do the math.

This is not a new idea. In a 1983 newspaper column, I jokingly proposed a water pipeline to the Lower 48. Then a few years later, Governor Wally Hickel made a serious proposal along those lines.

Nothing came to pass of course. Can you imagine the permitting nightmare alone in trying to build an Alyeska sized water pipeline through the "last great temperate rain forest in the world" (so spaketh Greenpeace)?

Well, in about 30 years when even the most foaming-mouthed Earth Firsters are clamoring for a  few ounces of agua, I suspect that the environmental review process will consist of "turn on the danged spigot, now!"

jpg drought

Mike Keefe, The Denver Post
Distributed to subscribers by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Of course, a water pipeline is only one option.

Another would be to convert all those oil tankers to water haulers.

I can hear you all saying a collective "eeewww" at the thought of that oily tasting water. Well, have you ever tried the tap water in Anaheim? I have. Once you "scrubbed" the surface glop off, those folks wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Besides, they don't drink water down there anyway. They wash their cars, water their lawns and "spritz" their heat-baked sidewalks with it. By 2050, there will be two Starbucks on every block in the West anyway. Let them drink Latte. We can sell them the good (bottled) stuff ($20 for 12 ounces of Alaska "rain," who knew?) for their showers and baths.

If the thought of a water tanker running aground leaving Tongass Narrows and creating an environmental disaster by spilling all that "fresh" water into the ocean bothers you (as well it should!) then another possibility would be to just build huge bottling plants and crank out more of that tanzanite-priced rain water. Sure, all that plastic is a waste of resources in the global scheme of things, but if you can sell significant amounts of bottled water in Ketchikan, you can sell it at a mind boggling profit anywhere.

Is there a hitch in this plan? Of course.

Those busy little beavers in the US Bureau of Reclamation have been pretty quiet since master builder Floyd Dominy retired thirty years ago. Heck, they've even been breaching some of their mid century handiwork in recent years (only little tiny out of the way dams, nothing like Bonneville or Grand Coulee).

But Dominy still walks the earth - at 95 no less - so there is always a chance that the Bureau will rise again with another of its world changing projects. Such as the ones that were pondered in the middle of the last century. These went beyond building dams and creating reservoirs. A variety of projects looked at diversions in order to boost the largest western rivers, the Columbia and the Colorado. They never quite got around to reversing the Continental Divide, but you know they were thinking about it.

It was even suggested that large canals be built to the Colorado from Canadian Rivers like the Fraser and Thompson in order to reallocate all that wasted British Columbian in-stream flow to somewhere it was needed, like the US Southwest.

The Canadians didn't fall for that horsepucky then, but that was before Americans started snapping up the bottled water in such tsunami quantities and it was also when the Colorado River still reached the ocean (it dries up a few puddles short of the Sea of Cortez these days).

So the real competition would be between our big expensive Pipeline to Somewhere (coming soon to a water tap near you!) and a similar big expensive Canadian project.

But I'm still willing to bet a couple of Loonies, that we'll come out ahead in the long run. After all, the Canadian Rockies are losing their snow pack as well. They might be looking to tap into our endless supply of rain by 2050 too.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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