‹ Infrastructure

Water, water everywhere

February 25, 2013

Some companies have studied exporting water by tanker from Alaska to places that could really use the water. However, the business case has not been sound and ventures that are talked about have thus far failed to move forward.

That old axiom that the earth is 75% water… not quite. In reality, water constitutes only 0.07% of the earth by mass, or 0.4% by volume. What this shows is the relative size of our water supply if it were all gathered together into a ball and superimposed on the globe.

Looking at photo image ....the large blob, centered over the western US, is all water (oceans, icecaps, glaciers, lakes, rivers, groundwater, and water in the atmosphere) on Earth. It’s a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps.  But of this, 321 million mi3, or 96.5%, is saline – great for fish, but undrinkable without the help of nature or some serious hardware. That still leaves a good bit of fresh water, some 11.6 million mi3, that’s the tiny dot over Georgia? It’s the fresh water in lakes and rivers.

For several times in four years, True Alaska Bottling (TAB)–a company wanted to pioneer regular bulk water shipments from a lake near Sitka, Alaska to a distribution hub in India. The high cost of shipped water, daunting logistics, and concerns about relying on foreign suppliers have many water experts skeptical that shipments from Alaska will happen. In an interview with Circle of Blue, S2C president Rod Bartlett said the cost of buying water from Sitka, loading it, shipping it, and unloading it in India would total $0.07 per gallon–significantly more than desalinated water, which is produced for around $0.01 per gallon at its most expensive price.


The cost of desalination is far lower than the cost of sending water by tanker over the ocean. Alaska best concentrate on those liquids it has successfully exported over the past 4 decades - oil and LNG.



Source: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.