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The Outline of NAWAPA

by Lyndon H. LaRouche,

January 1988



Physical Economy Page

This appeared as an appendix to the book published as Schiller Institute Conference Proceedings "Development is the New Name for Peace." in January, 1988. Most of the material is taken from a 1983 pamphlet by Mr. LaRouche, called, Won't You Please Give Your Grandchildren a Drink of Water?

The Outline of NAWAPA

Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.

The North American Water and Power Alliance—NAWAPA—is the most comprehensive of a series of plans developed during the 1950s and 1960s to capture and redistribute fresh water in Alaska and Canada. NAWAPA would deliver large quantities of water to water-poor areas of Canada, the lower forty-eight states of the United States of America, and Mexico.

In the mid-1960s, this giant engineering project in water management was seen by leading figures in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere as the next great undertaking to which the United States should commit itself as a nation, comparable in scope and benefits to the NASA space program and the rapid and widespread development of nuclear power. (In fact, the NAWAPA plan was favorably reviewed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.)

In 1964, the Ralph M. Parsons Company, the West Coast- based international engineering firm which had helped to design and build the water management system which turned California into the richest agricultural producing area in the nation, presented a developed plan for NAWAPA to a special subcommittee of the United States Senate chaired by Senator Frank Moss of Utah. As entered in the Congressional Record, the original NAWAPA plan called for no less than 369 separate projects.

NAWAPA begins with construction of a series of dams in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, trapping the water of the various rivers running through this largely undeveloped wilderness area. The drainage area to be tapped is approximately 1.3 million square miles, with a mean annual precipitation of 40 inches.

A large portion of the water thus collected would then be channeled into a man-modified reservoir 500 miles long, 10 miles wide, and 300 feet deep, constructed out of the southern end of the natural gorge known as the Rocky Mountain Trench in the Canadian province of British Columbia. This would be accomplished through a series of connecting tunnels, canals, lakes, dams, and, because the trench itself exists at an elevation of 3,000 feet, even lifts. The network of projects provides plentiful opportunities for hydroelectric power development.

To the east, a thirty-foot deep canal would be cut from the Trench to Lake Superior, to maintain a constant water level and clean out pollution in the entire Great Lakes system from Duluth to Buffalo. Not only would this provide more water for hydroelectric power and agricultural irrigation of the Great Plains region of Canada and the U.S.A., the canal could ultimately be made navigable for lake- and ocean-going vessels from the Great Lakes into the heart of Alberta, and eventually, extended westward into Howe Sound, British Columbia. The dream of a Northwest Passage would at last become a fact, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Vancouver.

South from the Trench reservoir, water would be lifted through a giant dump lift to the Sawtooth Reservoir in southwestern Montana, from which point it would flow by gravity through the western part of the system, passing through a tunnel in the Sawtooth Mountain eighty feet in diameter and fifty miles in length, to the western and southern U.S. states.

South of the Rocky Mountain Trench, in central Idaho and southeastern Washington, a series of hydroelectric plants would develop the Clearwater and Clearwater North Fork Rivers and the lower reaches of the Salmon and Snake Rivers. Flow of the Columbia River would be supplemented as needed from other rivers as well as regulated at its direct connection to the Rocky Mountain Trench Reservoir to prevent flooding. NAWAPA aqueducts and reservoirs would dot the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, providing water to the Staked Plains and lower Rio Grande River basin and serving New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Mexico via existing rivers.

Flows from the Rocky Mountain Trench and Clearwater subsystem would also supply Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona in the United States; and Baja California, Chihuahua, and Sonora in Mexico. A diversion aqueduct at Trout Creek, Utah would send high-quality, low- mineral water to southern California and Baja California. Here it would arrest soil damage caused by high-mineral Colorado River irrigation water.

The 1964 Parsons Company study estimated that NAWAPA could assure adequate water supply to the continent for the next 100 years. The conserved water would be sufficient to irrigate 86,300 square miles, equal to a 35-mile-wide strip extending 500 miles into the Canadian agricultural belt, traversing the length of the United States, and extending 200 miles into Mexico for a total length of 2,500 miles. In delivering 20 million acre-feet of water to Mexico, the plan allows that country alone to develop eight times as much new irrigated land as the Aswan High Dam provides Egypt. In this original proposal, Canada would receive 22 million acre-feet of usable fresh water, and the United States 78 million acre-feet.

For political reasons, the NAWAPA proposal was not acted on by Congress when originally presented. But no one has reasonably challenged estimates of the plan‘s feasibility.

The Benefits of NAWAPA

For the United States, the benefits of the upgraded NAWAPA proposal are virtually unlimited. The full-scale project now promises 150 million acre-feet of water per year—a 50 percent increase in the present consumption of 300 million acre-feet yearly. Some 55,000 megawatts per year of surplus electric power would be provided, nearly doubling present U. S. hydroelectric capacity of 70,000 megawatts. Nearly 50 million more acres of irrigable land will become available, almost doubling irrigated acreage west of the Mississippi.

It doesn‘t end there. Stabilization and control of the Great Lakes is one dramatic example of the decrease in pollution levels attainable by such methods of water management. NAWAPA would also help to stabilize water levels throughout the West, providing, among its notable benefits, the opportunity to reverse the depletion of the Ogalala Aquifer, the principal water supply for 11 million acres of prime farmland in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and other High Plains states. NAWAPA would provide the mechanism for reversing the current salinity problem of irrigated lands by flooding selected areas to wash out the accumulated salts, and by maintaining a regime of “wasteful“ irrigation to prevent such build-ups in the future. Thus ground water supplies would be recharged. In addition, increased facilities for water transport would also prove cost-saving.

NAWAPA would also create substantial numbers of productive jobs, for example, in the construction and steel industries. Unlike the make-work employment projects proposed by some as a depression measure, the NAWAPA project would employ American manpower to actually increase the national wealth.

In addition, NAWAPA would increase the power of the U.S. A. to develop other nations in the Third World, providing new markets for American agriculture and industry.

It is more difficult to give a “dollars and cents“ estimate of NAWAPA‘s annual benefit to American industry, agriculture, workers and consumers; but one respected congressional supporter of the original NAWAPA plan reported it would increase the annual national income from agriculture, livestock, mining, and manufacturing by approximately $30 billion.

The benefits for Mexico and Canada would be of a similar spectacular order. Canada would enjoy 58 million acre-feet of water and 38,000 additional megawatts of hydroelectric power, and the same kind of irrigation, transport, and clean water benefits accruing to the United States. In particular, the Northwest Passage route would be a vital aid in realizing the vast, untapped development potential of that largely wilderness nation.

As for Mexico, a nation whose rapid agricultural and industrial development is essential to advance the living standards of its 60 million citizens and for whom increased food production ranks as a critical national priority, NAWAPA would produce an additional 40 million acre-feet of water a year, at least tripling its irrigable land, and 4,000 additional megawatts of electric power. The Parsons Company‘s original estimate of the economic benefit to Mexico was an annual $30 billion increase in national income from agricultural, livestock, mining and manufacturing—the same figure as projected for the United States.

The Costs of NAWAPA

At first glance, the costs of NAWAPA appear immense. The Parsons Company‘s original 1964 estimate was $80 billion. The upgraded plan was estimated to cost $130 billion in 1979, excluding the costs of environmental studies and other bu reaucratic requirements apart from the detailed engineering plans necessary for the project itself. A partial breakdown in 1979 dollars includes $13 billion for construction equipment, $65 billion in construction labor, and 100,000 tons of copper and aluminum, 30 million tons of steel, and 200 million sacks of cement.

Excluded from the $130 billion figure is the cost of needed local distribution systems such as the connection of the Panamint Reservoir to the Los Angeles water supply. Such connections would be required throughout the continent.

To realize the potential of the 50 million acres of new irrigable farmland would require additional capital investment of perhaps $10 billion. (The costs of center-pivot irrigation, for example, are $200 per acre.)

Finally, local transportation systems will need to be upgraded to move the increased produce; better rail transport is especially vital.

Suppose one assumed a $200 billion figure for implementation of the upgraded plan, with a sizable chunk of the local water management, agricultural, and transport expenses included. Averaged out over the ten- to twenty-year lifespan presently projected for completion of the project, that represents a capital expenditure well within the magnitude of the conceivable. If one merely adopts the Parsons Company estimate of $30 billion annual benefit to the national income, it is apparent that NAWAPA would pay for itself many times over by the time our grandchildren have grown up.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, we were to reject the NAWAPA approach as “too ambitious and expensive,“ decided to “go it alone“ without Canada and Mexico, and attempted to develop water resources piecemeal and at a slower pace. We would quickly find that less ambitious is not necessarily cheaper!

Consider the average cost of Bureau of Reclamation water projects from 1975 to 1979. The Bureau spent $700 million on developing an additional 2 million acre-feet of water annually over this period, for an average cost of $350 per acre- foot. Projecting that to the development of 130 million acre- feet required for the western states, produces a total cost of over $45 billion, without any provision for long-distance transfer to the drought areas.

Consider also the average costs of developing additional electric power—at current rates, an additional 40 gigawatts otherwise provided by the western United States NAWAPA would cost $40 billion to replace.

Thus, at the best possible cost estimates, attempting to replace by local projects the U.S. section of NAWAPA alone, excluding the benefits to (and the contributions from) Mexico and Canada, would cost $85 billion, two-thirds as much as the entire project!

In reality, such piecemeal development would be impossible. That only 2 million acre-feet of water per year were developed in the four years preceding 1979, when previous projects were being completed, points to the fallacy of that belief at that rate our “local,“ piecemeal approach would take sixty-five years. Only a national commitment to water devel opment can produce benefits on the scale of NAWAPA. Besides, the greatest sources of available water are not in the continental U.S.A., but in Alaska and Canada!

Suppose we decide not to proceed with NAWAPA. That, too, has its costs, and the ultimate cost would be disastrous:

The collapse of the agricultural system which has made the U.S.A. the recognized world leader in food production. Take, for example, the problem of the Ogalala Aquifer in the High Plains states, that we mentioned earlier. It is currently estimated that at present rates, this vital source of supply for 11 million acres of farmland will run dry by the year 2020. In creasing sums are being spent on water conservation systems and labor-intensive farming methods to save a few gallons per acre. Not only does this waste capital and human effort, it is leading to an ever-increasing build-up of salts in the soil, salts which will eventually poison the crops and the groundwater if they are not flushed out by “wasting water.“

As farmers are forced into dryland farming, the practice being followed in the less arid areas, the effects will be equally disastrous. Dryland farming is necessarily much less productive than irrigated agriculture overall, but it is also much less predictable. Therefore, farmers will not be able to invest in crop improvements because they will have much less assurance of a certain level of productivity.

The Great Plains are a major source of food for the world at present, and subjecting this supply to the vagaries of the weather is playing “Russian roulette“ with large sections of the world‘s population. Preliminary studies have shown that the development of irrigation in the once-dry Dust Bowl areas added significantly to the average natural rainfall over these areas. If irrigation is now discontinued, it is highly possible that the rainfall will again decline, leaving only dessicated monuments to the greatness of American agriculture.

The only realistic question, then, is, “How shall we proceed with NAWAPA?“

“The management, engineering, and construction of NAWAPA will require the skills of a plethora of organizations,“ noted N.W. Snyder of the Parsons Company in 1980. He suggested that “some continent-wide agency, representing all three North American countries be formed to finance, build, and operate NAWAPA.“ Whether this or another approach is taken, one thing remains certain—if the citizens of the United States do not take the lead in discussing and promoting development of NAWAPA, among ourselves and with our neighbors in Mexico and Canada, it will not be built.