On March 12, the Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism Committee will ask what the state can do to encourage exports of water in bulk shipments.
For years, entrepreneurial dreamers have sought in vain to move water in bulk shipments from Alaska to distant, drier markets. Even the state’s leaders have tried to peddle Alaska’s liquid assets, with Walter Hickel (R) proposing a pipeline to California during his governorship in the 1990s.
In 1992, Alaska’s legislature set up the state’s first laws on water exports. Since then, at least a half dozen attempts to set up businesses to export bulk water have failed. Recently, those attempts have focused on water sourced from the communities of Sitka and Adak Island.
Next month, Alaskan lawmakers will again take up the matter — but with less lofty goals.
On March 12, the Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism Committee will meet with a panel of experts to discuss the hurdles that bulk water exports face. The committee will consider what the state can do to help make bulk water exports a reality, according to Ginger Blaisdell, a committee staff member. And in the end, Blaisdell told Circle of Blue, the committee will determine whether any laws need to be changed to encourage water exports.
Tinkering with state laws, however, will not change the big picture. Water shipped on tankers from Alaska has been priced too high to compete on cost, while the business logistics have proved daunting. Many bulk water transactions hinge on distance. Catalonia, for example, turned to other Spanish provinces and its neighbor France for emergency water supplies during a drought in 2008.
The idea for the hearing came from comments by Greg Wolf, executive director of World Trade Center Alaska, who gave a presentation to the committee on February 12.
During a question-and-answer session, Blaisdell said that Wolf was asked which new export industries Alaska could develop. Water was his answer, according to Blaisdell.
Wolf did not respond to email or phone inquires from Circle of Blue.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton