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Simon Dagher

Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics

McGill University, Montreal

June, 2012



Inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) is the practice of moving or exporting bulk water volumes between adjacent or

distant water-basins. It is currently being applied to hydroelectric projects, irrigation schemes and for municipal

water supply. There is concern that IBWT projects may increase in magnitude in terms of scale and importance, to

the point where entire States or regions may depend on them. The issue from a philosophical perspective

addresses the commoditization of water in the context of IBWT. The historical, legal, economic, institutional and

political discussion addresses the difficulties that Canadian governments face to effectively protect their fresh

water resources from export. Three IBWT case studies are explored. A feasibility study of potential IBWT projects is

undertaken from an engineering perspective. Canadian water resources are scrutinized to identify potential water

extraction locations. Three proposals are described and studied: 1) exporting water using pressurized pipelines into

the water-stressed Ogallala aquifer of the Southern-States, 2) reversing river flows to supplement the Great Lakes

Basin, and 3) using trans-oceanic water tankers for fresh water export. Each proposal is rated depending on their

potential environmental impacts (hydrologic disruptions, greenhouse emissions), social impacts, and by their

potential costs and benefits. It was found that the pipeline proposal was the most beneficial of the three options,

yet all three would be neither economically nor environmentally feasible.

Key Words: Inter-basin water transfer, IBWT, water exportation, water supply, water law.


Les transferts massifs d’eau entre basin-versants est la pratique de déplacer ou exporter des gros

volumes d'eau entre des bassins adjacents ou éloignés. C’est habituellement utilisé dans des projets

d’hydroélectricité, d'irrigation et d'approvisionnement d’eau municipale. Il y a un potentiel que les

projets de transferts massifs pourraient augmenter, à un niveau en termes d'échelle et d'importance, où

des régions entières peuvent en dépendre. La question d'un point de vue philosophique traite la

marchandisation de l'eau dans le contexte de transfert massif. La discussion se poursuit en examinent

les développements historique, économique, institutionnel, politique et les difficultés que les

gouvernements canadiens sont confrontés à protéger efficacement leurs ressources en eau douce de

l'exportation. Suite à cette étude de faisabilité est un point de vue technique. Les ressources d’eaux du

Canada sont ciblées pour identifier les sites potentiels d'extraction. Trois propositions sont décrites: 1)

exporter de l'eau en utilisant des canalisations sous pression dans l'aquifère Ogallala des États du Sud,

ayant un stress hydrique, 2) inverser l’écoulement de rivières pour alimenter le bassin des Grands Lacs,

et 3) en utilisant des citernes d'eau transocéaniques pour l'exportation. Chaque proposition est évaluée

en fonction de leurs impacts potentiels sur l'environnement (perturbations hydrologiques, émissions à

effet de serre), les impacts sociaux, et par leurs coûts et avantages potentiels. Il a été constaté que le

projet de canalisation sous pression a été le plus bénéfique de ces trois options, cependant tous les trois

ne seraient pas économiquement ou écologiquement faisable.

Mots clés: transfert d'eau entre bassins, TDEB, l'exportation de l'eau, l'approvisionnement en eau, loi sur



I am extremely appreciative for the involvement of my supervisor, Professor Susan Gaskin. The

continued support and assistance made this project possible.

Thank you to the professionals that accepted to lend their thoughts and ideas in an interview: Professor

Murray Clamen, Chris Wood, Dr. K.J.A. Grant and Dr. Hugo Tremblay.

I would like to thank Deena Yanofsky of the geography library for help in accessing important data.

Thanks to my friends and family who have supported me throughout.





















Inter-basin water transfers in modern society



Project overview




IBWT and Society



What are the trends in the global water supply?


2.1.1 Global Water Issues


2.1.2 Preparing and responding to global water scarcity



Philosophical nature of the issue


2.2.1 Wasted water


2.2.2 Justified environmental impacts


2.2.3 Canadian water: abundance or surplus?


2.2.4 Valuing versus commoditising water



Water transfers and exports in Canadian society


2.3.1 Timeline: Inter-basin water transfer and Water Policy in Canada


2.3.2 Early days of Canadian water policy & the boundary water commissions: 1900 to 1950s


2.3.3 The ambitious era: late 1950s to 1970s


2.3.4 The free-trade era: 1980s to 1999


2.3.5 The Federal Strategy: 1999 to early 2000s


2.3.6 Current situation and difficulties




Case Studies



Australian case study: Kimberley to Perth



Political perspective: a complete study by Australian water authorities


Transport methods



Pipeline method


Source options


Routes variants


Other considerations



Oceanic transport method


Source options


Conveyance method


Results from GWA (2006) study


Conflicting Perspectives



Québec's northern water: Eastmain-1-A, Sarcelle powerhouses and Rupert River diversions


Project Description



The Required Environmental Impact Statement




Cree Opposition



Engineering Aspects




Hydraulic structures



Colorado Big-Thompson project



A working water market




Water Transfer Proposals





Step 1 - Extraction zone


Step 2 - Consumption Zone


Step 3 - Conveyance Method


Step 4 - Refining the options


Step 5 - Evaluation of Impacts, Inhibitors and Benefits


(Aspect 1) expected environmental impacts


(Aspect 2) socio/economic impacts


(Aspect 3) expected gains






Pipeline Proposals


Source: Laird and Nelson Rivers


Destination: Consumption Sites


Conveyance: Pipelines




Pipe thickness and other design specifications


Summary of Proposal 1



Proposal 2: Augmenting the Great Lakes by river reversal


Destination: Supplementing the Great Lakes Reservoir


Conveyance: Engineered River Works




Summary of proposal 2



Proposal 3: International Export via Tanker-ships




Source and Destination


Summary of Proposal 3



Evaluation and discussion


4.3.1 Environmental Impacts


4.3.2 Socio/Economic impacts


4.3.3 Expected gains


4.3.4 Comparison








Future Studies




APPENDIX A Results from GWA (2006)


APPENDIX B Canada’s Large River Flow Visualization (NRCAN, 1978)




APPENDIX D Albany River hydraulic structure parameters



Figure 1 Visual representation of increase in scale (adapted from NRCAN, 2003)


Figure 2 Representative Canadian Shield landscape in Quebec (Coordinates 49.497162,-74.613274)



Figure 4 Future water supply versus demand in the Perth Metropolitan Area


Figure 5 Traditional supply versus new options for Perth region


Figure 6 Elevation profile of pipeline (from Water Corporation (2004))


Figure 7 Source point variants




Figure 10 Plan view of C-1 dam (HQ, 2004)


Figure 11 Cross section of typical dyke showing fill constituents (HQ, 2004)


Figure 12 Liard River source (source map : NRCAN, 2003)


Figure 13 Nelson River source (source map: NRCAN, 2003)


Figure 14 Satellite image of conveyance path


Figure 15 Elevation profile of Liard River


Figure 16 Elevation profile of Nelson River


Figure 17 Plan view of Albany proposal (source map: NRCAN, 2003)


Figure 18 Albany river elevation diagram


Figure 19 Section 3 of Albany proposal


Figure 20 Section 10 of Albany proposal


Figure 21 Source site for tanker exportation (source map: NRCAN, 2003)


Figure 22 Conveyance path of Koksoak and Churchill proposals


Figure 23 Conveyance path of Skeena proposal towards Japan and China


Figure 24 Comparing the performance evaluation score results for each of the three aspects



Table 1 Summary and purpose of Case studies


Table 2 Categories for expected environmental impacts (negative)


Table 3 Categories for socio/economic inhibitors (negative)


Table 4 Categories for expected gains (positive)


Table 5 Tanker-ship details


Table 6 Aspect 1: Environmental Impacts


Table 7 Aspect 2: Socio/Economic impacts


Table 8 Aspect 3: Expected gains




Inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) is the practice of moving bulk water volumes between adjacent or

distant water-basins. This is typically done to augment the available water resources in an area of

scarcity by introducing water from an area of surplus. For centuries, if not millennia, man has been

transferring water by diverting and reworking natural watercourses. This has enabled water demanding

human settlements to develop in locations with little local water resources but other desirable

attributes. These transfers have been done typically using a small scale application of collection,

conveyance, and discharge technology.

IBWT started with ancient aqueducts using the force of gravity to transfer the water, it has now evolved

to incorporate new technologies powered by pumps and turbines. Today, water is moved with cargo

ships, dams and river diversions, or through pipelines and canals. This technology has a wide range of

applications: from irrigating dry plains, to augmenting water volumes in reservoirs for hydroelectricity


There is concern that IBWT projects may increase by an order of magnitude in terms of scale and

importance. As many governing bodies are starting to feel the pressure of water scarcity issues, many

experts (Ghassemi & White, 2007; Pierre Gingras, 2010; Lasserre, 2005; Barlow, 2007) are anticipating

that IBWT will, for the first time, be regarded as a possible method to ensure a steady water supply for

large regions. It is expected that the conventional and common practice of moving water between

adjacent small river-basins will potentially grow to a practice of moving much larger volumes, much

greater distances. These transfers could occur between the largest oceanic watersheds in order to

satisfy the demand of large regions and their municipalities, industries and agriculture. If the transfer

occurs between countries, it can be referred to as a water export. Thus, IBWT could soon be integrated

into the water supply strategy of entire provinces or states, if not countries. Figure 1 shows the

anticipated increase in scale.

countries. Figure 1 shows the anticipated increase in scale. Figure 1 Visual representation of increase in

Figure 1 Visual representation of increase in scale (adapted from NRCAN, 2003)

At present, large scale oceanic watershed transfers are not being used in either Canada’s or the United

Statesstrategy for water supply; nor has water been exported in appreciable amounts between the two

countries. Four lines of reasoning provide the explanation. (1) There is a lack of practical feasibility:

water is very heavy thus transporting it over long distances would be very energy demanding (Wood,

2011; Grant, 2011). Once losses due to leaks and the cost of new infrastructure requirements are

factored in, it will not be economically viable. (2) Traditional alternatives are still considered to be the

better and cheaper option. 3) The anticipated and unpredictable environmental impacts, especially in

more remote areas, could not be justified in a modern water supply strategy. (4) Finally, considering the

various environmental protection legislation, trade laws, and general politics, governments simply will

not support it. (Richer, 2007; Wood, 2011; Tremblay, 2011).

Despite these four compelling reasons, the controversial idea of large-scale IBWT, and water export has

arisen numerous times in news stories (Jolicoeur, 2010; Morgan, 2010; Maich 2005). On one side, some

engineers are still advocating for it (Kierans, 2012; Olechnowicz, 2010; Pierre Gingras, 2010), on the

other side environmentalists are warning that it is a looming threat.

However, due to the development

of new technologies and pressing global water scarcity issues, IBWT may become economically feasible

and acceptable as a solution to regional water scarcity.

Inter-basin water transfers in modern society

The question thus becomes: in our world of changing climate, shifting demographics, relentlessly

increasing economies, and damaged eco-systems, can and should long distance water transfer play a

role in water supply within society for the next generations?

Historically, politicians, the public, and those involved in environmental protection have been

emphatically against IBWT. This sentiment, held by Canadians for a few generations, is also found across

the globe, as long distance water transfer is increasingly being pushed as a possible alternative to ensure

a steady water supply (Ghassemi & White, 2007).

Will IBWT always be rejected? Unfortunately, protection of the environment, even when supported by

entities with power and credibility, is often over-ruled in favour of economic development.

There are

numerous examples where vested interests, usually of an economic or political origin, have overridden

any sort of long-term preservation commitment.

1.1 Project overview

In the literature, inter-basin water transfer in North America has been discussed and argued against

mostly from a non-technical standpoint. Humanitarians, environmentalists, journalists, and geographers

have contributed to this cause; yet not much is heard from those who are ultimately responsible for

actually conceptualizing and building the physical structures needed, the engineers. Thus, this project

will extend the argument and begin the discussion as to why, from an engineering and technological

standpoint, it is not an appropriate long-term solution.

The second chapter of this project discusses the non-technical aspects. It is based on interviews and an

extensive literature review. The idea of potentially turning water into a profitable commodity brings up

wide philosophical questions of how we define natural water, and how we place a value on it. Very few

people would disagree that water is a human right. This implies that governments should be committed

to ensuring access to clean water and sanitation. Must economic imperatives be the driving factors to

fulfill these commitments? The issue from a philosophical, historical, legal, macro-economic,

institutional and political perspective will be discussed.

The third chapter explores a few relevant case studies of IBWT. Actual real-world water transfer

projects and proposals are discussed and a list of “lessons learnt” is developed, that are applied in the

subsequent chapter.

The fourth chapter attempts to address, from an unbiased approach, the question of whether IBWT

projects should be pursued, considering the engineering and technological feasibility of IBWT projects.

After assessing the quantity of water resources available throughout North America, and identifying

where water resources are abundant versus where they are or will be scarce, several hypothetical IBWT

proposals are developed. The proposals will describe water transfer paths and methods of conveyance,

and the types of hydraulic structures required. Following this, a systematic and qualitative evaluation,

of the potential environmental impacts, social implications, obstacles and benefits of each proposal, will

be undertaken.

These evaluations will be compared and discussed with respect to their feasibility.


report will conclude with a summary of the ideas presented and suggestions for future work.


IBWT and Society

2.1 What are the trends in the global water supply?

Inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) is an extreme method to secure a water supply, having large impacts.

Current and future problems of freshwater supply must be understood, in order to consider IBWT as a

possible component of future global water supply. Statistics and trends of global water scarcity issues

from the literature are presented, and IBWT is discussed in light of these issues.

2.1.1 Global Water Issues

Maude Barlow's book, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle Over the Right to

Water (Barlow, 2007) describes how the momentum of water issues has developed globally.

“At this stage the world is facing a water crisis due to pollution, climate change and a surging

population growth of such magnitude that close to 2 billion people are now living in water stressed

regions of the world. Further, unless we change our ways, by the year 2025, two thirds of the

world's population will face water scarcity. The global population tripled in the mid-20th century,

but water consumption went up a sevenfold. By 2050, after we add another 3 billion to the

population, humans will need an 80% increase in water supplies just to feed ourselves. No one

knows where this water is going to come from.”

Important global statistics, indicating the importance of good water resources management are given in

Blue Covenant.

40 % of the world population lacks access to proper sanitation, resulting in large

outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

Contaminated water is implicated in 80% of all sickness and disease

worldwide. 50% of hospital beds are occupied by people with an easily preventable waterborne disease.

Every 80 seconds a child dies from drinking contaminated water. Water shortages exacerbate the poor

conditions leading to these statistics. Barlow stresses that water shortages are not limited to developing

nations. Australia, a highly developed country, is also one of the driest countries and is facing major

water shortages. Development and reduced rainfalls have, for example, led to increases in the salinity of

soils and desertification, while rivers have been unsustainably drained.

In Barlow's book (2007), the commoditization of water resources, and the struggle between the

traditional methods of sharing water (public sharing of the commons), versus the for-profit privatization

of water distribution are extensively discussed. She identifies the involvement of the largest

corporations, world banks, and international institutions like the UN and WTO in making water a

commodity to be sold on an open market.

The basic argument is that, with the privatization of water, the priority of supplying water universally as

a human right will shift to accommodate only those who can pay. Environmentalists, rights activists,

farmers, grassroots communities and other groups are encouraged to push for more global water

justicewater as a human right and fair sharing of water as part of the global commons.

The commercial market forces, which Barlow has discussed, play a crucial role in creating the pressure

needed for large, continental scale engineering projects, such as IBWT, to be adopted. Those with an

active role in environmental protection and preservation, both individuals and collective organizations,

will also attempt to influence IBWT development. However, a historical analysis suggests that long term

solutions are often over-ridden by short term economic analysis driven by market pressure, potential

profits or political expediency.

Barlow's grim vision of a corporate controlled water supply would suggest that if water is controlled by

those whose only aim is profit, if IBWT is the cheapest supply, it would be difficult to stop IBWT

development regardless of social resistance or the environmental impacts.


Dry spring: the coming water crisis of North America, a book written by Chris Wood (Wood, 2008), is

another popular book on the water crisis, with a special focus on North America.

“It's a problem of distribution, both geographic and temporal. Water is available in the wrong

place, or the wrong occasion, with the wrong form for economic convenience. There is either too

much water or too little, but seldom water in amounts Goldilocks would call "just right."

Abundance flows where few of us choose to live; supplies are tight where we flock.(Wood, 2008)

If there was to be a compelling reason for inter-basin water transfer, it would to address the issue of

temporal and spatial variation in the distribution of water resources. IBWT is used to hold and then

distribute the water across the land. It serves to compensate for the differences between dry and wet

places, and dry and wet seasons.

Wood (2008) makes it clear that the problem of distributing water to where settlements have been

established has been a problem since civilisations have developed. However it will become more acute

due to the anthropogenic damage to the environment, and particularly due to climate change. However,

Wood (2008) does seem to be optimistic, urging us to build resiliency into our systems:

“[We must] equip ourselves for the widest conceivable range of future conditions with strategies

and investments that perform well in high water and low, as well as during wild swings between

the two.”

Wood acknowledges that the United States and Canada have taken certain measures to moderate the

increases in their use of all resources, particularly water. In the last 20 years, despite population

increases, water consumption has remained constant or at least level with economic development.

However, water consumption is still too great, and water use intensity can be increased to delay a need

for an increase in water supply.

For example, domestic water supply infrastructure can be maintained

or replaced to reduce unaccounted for water (water leaked from the system).


discussion of water conservation measures is beyond the scope of this report. The worst case scenario


considered here, where there are no new conservation measures and hence additional water supply is

required. This is a realistic scenario given trends in urban migration and agricultural practices, and due

to the threat of reduced precipitation due to climate change. This provides the motivation for this study.

The goal is to determine if IBWT can be designed so that developments are sustainable and ecosystems

can be preserved.


Agnew and Woodhouse (2011) in Water Resources and Development analyses the unequal global

distribution of water and studies the North American case in detail. He describes the implications of

withdrawing water from a fossil source as compared to a renewable source.

Figure 2 shows a satellite image of Quebec, 200 km north of Montreal. This is representative of the

regions of Canada, including most of Quebec, that lie on the Canadian Shield, where the landscape is

dotted with wetlands, lakes, ponds and rivers. However most of this freshwater was deposited during

the recession of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago. The Great Lakes were formed by

continental glaciers during the whole of the last glacial period. Today, they contain 99% fossil water

with only 1% of their volume renewed with inflows from streams and rivers and outflow through the St.

Lawrence River towards the Atlantic Ocean. The United-States’ greatest aquifer, that spans across eight

states, was also created during the last glacial period.

Figure 2 Representative Canadian Shield landscape in Quebec (Coordinates 49.497162,-74.613274) Water scarcity arises

Figure 2 Representative Canadian Shield landscape in Quebec (Coordinates 49.497162,-74.613274)

Water scarcity arises because water sources are being exploited at rates greater than they are being

replenished. This is particularly acute for fossil sources which are not replenished by the present

hydrological cycle. This is clearly not sustainable as has been demonstrated by the many dried up lakes,

and rivers and the aquifers with dropping water tables (with pumps running dry).

The availability of water across the globe is not only governed by geographic distributions of water and

precipitation rates, but also by factors which depend on the level of development in the country (Agnew

& Woodhouse, 2011). Consider the energy rich and water poor countries of the Middle East: vast sums

of money (at least currently) are spent on desalinating water to create artificial water reserves.

Developed countries can implement long-term planning and can invest in preserving and maintaining

natural flows of water contributing to their water security strategy. The lack of clean water in poorer

countries is often due to political corruption and inefficiencies, rather than with the geographic

availability of freshwater resources.


The implications of not addressing these water issues are explored in Plan B: rescuing a planet under

stress and a civilization in trouble by Lester R. Brown (2003). Two factors are identified that will most

affect food production (which has the greatest direct impact on human well-being): rising temperatures

and falling water tables. This is best exemplified by China, a region with unprecedented agricultural

activity where water tables are falling at alarming rates.

Brown (2003) identifies food production as the most vulnerable economic sector to water issues. If food

output cannot keep up with demand, prices will rise and food will become a national security issue.

There is a close link from water to food production and energy security and on to the stability of



The common theme in these references is that water scarcity is increasing.

described by the World Water Council in 2010:

Water scarcity was

“While the world’s population tripled in the twentieth century, the use of renewable water

resources has grown sixfold. Within the next 50 years, the world population will increase by

another 40 to 50 percent. This population growthcoupled with industrialization and

urbanization-- will result in an increasing demand for water with serious consequences on the


How will individual nations and their water supply agencies respond to these challenges?

2.1.2 Preparing and responding to global water scarcity

In response to this reality, Ghassemi and White (2007) identify that, although water professionals have

been advocating for a change in water resources management for four decades, they have not

implemented any changes in approach or management. Policy makers, scientists, and engineers are for

the most part still using historical data and traditional methods to ensure an adequate water supply.

There is no need to abandon traditional ways of supplying and conserving water, however water

resources management strategy must be re-evaluated in order to prepare for new challenges imposed

by increasing population, increasing industrialisation and the effects of climate change.

This project responds to this need, it opens up the dialogue on an unconventional water supply strategy.

There is little doubt that massive scale water transfer projects are unrealistic at present. However, those

most affected by water scarcity issues will eventually face desperate times. If Canada, a place rightly

considered as having an abundant supply, is to defend and protect its water resources, all possible

proposals and options need to be considered and debated.

2.2 Philosophical nature of the issue

2.2.1 Wasted water

The idea behind inter-basin water transfer is to stop, store and divert freshwater that is on its way into

the ocean. If left to its natural course, the freshwater would be lost as it mixes with saltwater in the

many deltas, bays, gulfs and estuaries of the coastal regions. Inter-basin transfer holds or diverts

freshwater so that it is not ‘wasted’ as it flows into the ocean (seawater).

The questions that present themselves are as follows: Is it really wasted? Does water on its way to the

ocean belong to us as a commodity to be used in our ever increasing urban centers and agricultural

fields? Or does free running freshwater belong to the ecosystems, even as it drains into the sea?

Therein lies the controversy of and the sensitivity to considering water as a commodity or a tradable

resource. Water has a vital role in the ecosystem, whereas all other resources either have a lesser (e.g.

timber) or a non-existent role (e.g. minerals, petrol). If we exhaust our nickel reserves, our only concern

will be to think of another way to strengthen steel. If we run low on clean water, the consequences are

far more disastrous.

2.2.2 Justified environmental impacts

IBWT involves removing water from its natural course. Thus, the environmental question must address

the importance of maintaining natural discharge rates along rivers and at the mouths of rivers. Assessing

the environment’s sensitivity to change should be done on a case-by-case basis. Given the typical

biodiversity and activity of major rivers, especially at estuaries, the importance of preservation should

not be underestimated (Linton, 2002).

IBWT will have the following environmental impacts: changes to the hydrologic regime, and impacts on

the local climate, ecosystem and the biological activity (Linton, 2002; Sasseville & Abdessalem, 2005).

Therefore, in light of this and due to the uncertainties as to the severity of the environmental impacts,

some professionals advocate taking a precautionary approach unless it can be proven that the volume of

water is not needed by the ecosystem (Clamen, 2011). That is, the prudent thing is to not do IBWT


Conversely, some experts warn against having an automatic and dogmatic condemnation of engineering

projects simply because they remove water and because the impacts are uncertain and unavoidable.

“[The prevalent problem, especially in the developed world] is the knee-jerk reactions of certain activist

groups, that large-scale water development is no longer necessary, and that water requirements of the

future can be taken care of by small scale projects like rain-water harvesting and local wells. It is difficult

to have sympathy for such dogmatic views.” (Ghassemi & White, 2007). Ghassemi & White (2007) stress

that solutions cannot be generalized and that it is important to judge each case by its site-specific

conditions. The two alternatives, small and large projects, may co-existthey are not necessarily

mutually exclusive. They conclude that it is important to redirect the question away from whether large

projects involving dams, diversions and pumps should be built, to how these can be done economically,

safely, and within social and environmental acceptability.

Pierre Gingras and M.K. Gagnon (2010) in L’eau du Nord condemn this knee-jerk reaction towards

engineering projects such as IBWT. They claim that as the water is not removed from the hydrological

cycle, nor polluted, it should be available to be used for economic benefit. A similar sentiment was

expressed by Kazimir Olechnowicz, the president of the Canadian civil engineering giant CIMA+ during a

Radio-Canada news interview (Olechnowicz, 2010).

This issue can be explored using a utilitarian perspective. If water is to be recognized as a universal

human right, measures must be taken to supply it. Supplying water inevitably has environmental

impacts. For example, tapping fossil groundwater can cause ground subsidence. Similarly, lakes often

have only a small percentage of their total volume as renewable inflows and hence are not appropriate

to supply increasing demands. There are impacts associated with damming and impounding rivers, such

as interrupting the sediment and nutrient cycle and causing river regime changes. Desalination plants

emit greenhouse gases and a dense saline waste (Wood, 2008). Given these inevitable impacts, and the

growing freshwater demand from increasing populations, the available options for various scenarios

should be measured to establish which option has the least cumulative environmental impacts relative

to the reliability of the water supply.

Compared to conventional methods, IBWT has several advantages. First, there would be a reduction in

the number of local impacts on society, as the impacts would be concentrated where there are only

sparse populations as that is where there is excess water availability. The impacts of IBWT can be better

managed and controlled given their consolidated nature. These are general guidelines and the best

course of action can only be found using site specific data and environmental conditions. The impacts

are a question of scale, both spatial and temporal (Lasserre, 2005). How large an impact is too large?

How can we measure impacts and give a proper value to water in the ecosystem? With respect to IBWT,

what is the maximum flow that can sustainably be removed from a river?

There are scientific and objective methods to answer these questions. Within an environmental impact

assessment, the minimum flows to protect certain fish species or to enable a minimum floodplain can be

measured. There are also hydraulic structures that can be used to mitigate other impacts such as weirs

or engineered river bedding that serve to maintain desired water levels, velocities, turbulence and other

hydraulic characteristics (as described later in the Rupert River case study).

2.2.3 Canadian water: abundance or surplus?

Activists (Barlow 2007; Quinn, 2007; Linton, 2002) like to bring up the question does Canada really have

a surplus of water?in their arguments. Quinn states (2007):

“There is a widespread misconception in both countries that Canada is much wealthier in

freshwater resources than its closest neighbour

The myth of Canada’s abundance of water also

reflects a tendency of our human-centric society to reduce water needs to per capita availability,

as though no other forms of life or ecological needs mattered. In truth, the Canadian and

American shares of global renewable freshwater are not much different, at roughly 7% and 6.5%,

respectively. This is not out of line, considering that Canada is slightly larger than the United


Although these facts are true, one cannot deny the implications that the total availability of freshwater

per person in Canada is much higher relative to the United-States (discounting Alaska) and most other

countries. Canada has 0.5% of the world’s population, with 7-9% of renewable water resources

depending on estimates (Sasseville & Abdessalem, 2005), whereas the United States has 5% of the

population for a similar percentage of global water resources. The appropriate way to assess the relative

abundance is to consider the availability of free-running renewable water resources. This is the water in

rivers discharging away from populations. In North America, it flows naturally into northern seas and

oceans. The stock of water that is available for export can be considered as the quantity that can be

spared from these rivers. Consider figure 3: the area north of the thicker black line is roughly where

water mostly runs freely northward (barring some industrial and hydropower activity). South of this line

human settlements are dense and thus the water resources are inappropriate for export. The majority

of the Canadian population lives south of the black line.

Environmentalists and engineers may vastly disagree on what quantity, if any, can be considered a

Figure 3 North American watershed map. The thick black line roughly separates where water resources
Figure 3 North American watershed map. The
thick black line roughly separates where water
resources are mostly free-running

surplus. However, with the vast unpopulated areas of the

north, Canada can be considered to have a huge

abundance of pristine water flowing into the oceans

relative to the United-States or most other countries.

Whether it can be labelled as “surplus” or “to spare” is

difficult to answer, just as difficult as whether water is ever

“wasted”. Again, the best way to circumvent these

subjective definitions is to have objective studies that

propose reasonable compromises for all stakeholders.

These will be discussed specific to the proposals in chapter


2.2.4 Valuing versus commoditising water

Water is a notoriously complex resource relative to others because of its free-flowing nature. Its

quantity and quality varies over time and space (Johns, 2008). The question of the nature and value of

water resources is discussed by many authors (Johns, 2008; Wood, 2008; Wood, 2011; Barlow, 2007).

This discussion is in response to the emergence of water as a resource in an international economy,

where it can be controlled and traded and is valuable as a commodity in a free-market. Activists such as

Barlow and Wood deplore focusing on liquid water itself as a commodity, while ignoring its other

indirect and elusive roles in economic production. This idea is captured during the interview with Chris

Wood (Wood, 2011):

“What thoughtful people need to do is recognize that water has economic value. Some of that is in

its nature as water. Some is in the products we can make that others with less water cannot

(embedded/virtual water). Some is in the ecoservices that water enables (this value may be very

large indeed, just poorly assessed). We need to be able to recognize all of these and have adult

conversations about them all, and about the potential they each have to improve Canadians’

quality of life, without going into brain-lock around the idea of ‘commodifying’ water.”

In other words, it is meaningless to get lost in semantics. The pursuit of long-term quality of life and

environmental sustainability is what is important. Water is not valuable to Canadians only because of

some arbitrary ‘heritage’ that we want to protect or some association of water with ‘life’ (Agnew &

Woodhouse, 2011). It is valuable because of the ecoservices, or the ecological productivity provided by

water in the natural landscape. It is in our best interests, especially for future generations, to protect

and correctly manage the natural water systems that provide ecoservices. The difficulty lies in assessing

if an engineered intervention that generates income by removing water, such as restricting flow for an

IBWT project, is worth more than the associated losses in ecoservices produced. To environmentalists

the automatic intuition is that, in the long-run, IBWT rarely ever is worth more. The problem is

convincing those driving development, namely politicians and business people. They require clear and

tangible proof, which is difficult to achieve given the uncertainties associated with predicting the

sensitivity of ecoservices.

2.3 Water transfers and exports in Canadian society

Propositions for inter-basin water transfer, when done within national boundaries, have resulted in

public opposition and controversy. This has been seen numerous times with the river flow disturbances

and inundations required to build and operate the giant hydro-facilities in Northern Quebec.

Moving water across an international boundary raises many other controversies. There are many

implications with IBWT that are additional to concerns about environmental impacts. Canadians have

always regarded water as their heritage (Barlow, 2007); relegating water to being just another

commodity would result in a public outcry, despite proclaimed economic benefits on the international

stage. As a result of this, the government's reaction in the form of the legal, political and economic

institutions to either protect or take advantage of Canadian water, warrants considerable attention.

Water law and politics become complicated. To the experts, many issues are open for interpretation and

for debate (Johns, 2005; Tremblay, 2011; Grant, 2008). For bulk water transfers, environmentalists are

continuously demanding the certainty that, within the layered and complicated web of laws and

agreements, there exist concrete provisions for environmental protection. In other words, have those

bodies designated to regulate the use of Canadian water resources, be it the individual province or the

Federal government, set up the required legal foundation to counter bulk water transfers, if they ever

become economically feasible?

As the literature consistently shows, and as corroborated by the interviews conducted, the answer is:

first, it is complicated, as water is implicated in many laws, and there are difficulties and obstacles to

legally outlawing bulk water transfer. This ultimately leaves in the vulnerability of Canadian water

resources to IBWT projects.

The best way to explain and present this situation is to look at the

historical context. Following this is a discussion of the current situation and the difficulties Canadians will

face in protecting their water.

2.3.1 Timeline: Inter-basin water transfer and Water Policy in Canada

The story of Canadian water politics is a long and drawn out one. Many issues and conflicts have

progressively mandated, shaped and matured Canada’s water laws, policies, public institutions, and

international agreements. They include conflicts between the multiple users of a watershed, the

establishment of property rights, protection of northern aboriginal communities, public health, hygiene,

sanitation and the right to clean water. Increasingly, provisions have been made for the protection of

water resources, navigation routes, fisheries, and the natural environment. Finally, in modern times,

there has been much discourse relating to the potential for water to be treated as a commodity and

therefore as an economic good, both as virtual water through the export of goods, or through bulk

water exports. The story of Canada’s water policy is ongoing, more-so now with the advent of

technologies, increased environmental awareness, climate change, and unprecedented new economic


The next section deals with the emergence and evolution of laws, agreements, and institutions that can

be applied specifically to inter-basin bulk water transfer in Canada. These are presented chronologically

into four observable and distinct time periods. The first era deals with the origins of water policy in

Canada. The second era comprises the technological boom of the ambitious early 1960s, complete with

dramatic speeches by President Kennedy and magnificent plans for humanity to tame the natural world

on a continental scale. Then we have the free-trade development era of the late 1970s to late 1990s.

Finally we have the most recent era, extending until the present day. This is a time of both increasing

environmental awareness and protection, and an emergence of global water scarcity issues.

2.3.2 Early days of Canadian water policy & the boundary water commissions: 1900 to 1950s

The International Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 was the first institution between Canada and the

United States to deal with water conflicts arising from shared watersheds and water bodies. It dealt with

conflicts in both quantity and quality of water (International Joint Commission, 2011). This treaty

"delineated the rights and obligations of the United States and Canada with respect to the protection of

natural levels and flows of their shared boundary waters.” (Grant, 2008).

This treaty established the International Joint Commission (IJC), which is still active today, and has the

role of enforcing the treaty. “[The IJC] must follow the Treaty as they try to prevent or resolve disputes.

They must act impartially, in reviewing problems and deciding on issues, rather than representing the

views of their respective governments.” (International Joint Commission, 2012).

Grant (2008) identifies that the treaty, as well as the influence of the IJC, was to be used as an

instrument for environmental protection. “It gave vetoes to each Federal government and to the panel

of IJC commissioners collectively over any proposed diversion in boundary waters that would

substantially affect water levels on the other side of the international border.”(Grant, 2008). However,

initially the main intention of preserving water levels was to ensure navigation routes through the Great

Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Grant (2008) identifies that the treaty is not fully applicable to bulk

transfers of a grander scale, such as those discussed in this report.

2.3.3 The ambitious era: late 1950s to 1970s.

The 1950s to the early 1970s saw unprecedented economic and demographic expansions, along with

the introduction of the American dreamand a higher standard of living. Existing infrastructure was not

capable of supporting this activity as it was outdated and insufficient. Therefore, these decades saw the

accelerated development of industrial technologies. Large-scale transportation networks, large power

plants, industrial agriculture, urban dwellings, and modernized water distribution and wastewater

collection networks were quickly constructed. Ambitious ways to tame, control and master nature’s

most important, yet evasive resource would quickly surface and gain political momentum.

Starting with Kennedy’s presidential term and extending to the late 1960’s, at least 10 high profile IBWT

schemes had been proposed. Two are perhaps the most notorious and prolifically discussed for similar

reasons: the NAWAPA and GRAND schemes.


Gargantuan engineering projects defined this era as countries competed and showed off their

developments. At the time, the US Army Corps of Engineers envisioned the first, now infamous, large-

scale water transfer project of North America. It was called the North American Water and Power

Alliance (NAWAPA). In terms of scale, it was comparable to the undertakings of NASA, and of nuclear

power developments of that era. The main design firm responsible for the conception and promotion of

the project was Parson Co., which at the time was famously responsible for “miraculously” developing

the arid parts of California into a bustling green agricultural paradise (LaRouche, 1988).

On a map, NAWAPA can be easily identified and described. Surface water from scarcely populated

northern areas, namely Alaska, the Yukon Territory and British Columbia would be dammed and

collected. Subsequently water would be conveyed down towards the more populated western and

central parts of the United States. Upon completion, (which was estimated to take 30 years) 4 700 MCS

(meters cubed per second) of freshwater would be delivered (Watkins, n.d.). This flow would stretch

across the continent with a discharge reaching as far as east as Lake Superior; it would provide a

supplement to the heavily withdrawn Great Lakes basin.

In terms of engineering elements, it would require 369 separate constructed sections spanning the

continent, making it an undertaking of unforeseen complexity. The project would require large

hydroelectric plants to generate the energy needed to divert the water up into the Rocky Mountain

Trench. Water would move down from there in a network of lined canals and tunnels taking advantage

of naturally occurring rifts and valleys of the mountain range.

The promotional film (Parsons Co., 1964) describes the points where the flow would need to cross the

saw-tooth Mountain range of Western United States. It would require a tunnel 24 meters in diameter

(which is about the width of a six standard highway lanes) and 800 kilometres in length. Clearly this was

no small undertaking, if one was to imagine the kind of power required to pressurize such a massive

pipe in just this one section.

The proposed benefits across North America were demonstrated to be nothing short of astonishing. The

promotional video from the 1960s (Parsons Co., 1964) describes how the sectors of water supply,

power, flood control, agriculture, seaway transportation, and recreation would directly benefit. The

lower States would enjoy a doubling of their water supply, and a large amount of economically valuable

hydroelectricity would be generated on down sloping sections. Politically, this project would contribute

to the United Statesclout as a nation fully harnessing and taming nature, something which could be

shown proudly on the world stage.

In terms of impacts, not much was identified or considered. This was during an era before consideration

of environmental impacts became crucial to new projects. Yet, some importance of maintaining

environmental stability was expressed: only 20% of the surplus water in the collection area was said to

be needed for this project to provide the promised supply and benefits (Parsons Co., 1964). In fact,

much of the environmental effects were actually described as positive and beneficial. For example,

states such as Utah would be able cease consuming discharge from the Colorado River. Even in the

1960’s, this river was showing signs of stress such as an increase in mineral content. The promotional

film showed scenes of lush green agricultural plains, claiming that these images would be possible only

with a new supply of fresh clean water.

Just as fast as this proposal appeared on the political platform, it fell out from the United-States

development priorities. There was a lot of opposition, and perhaps more than anything else, it collapsed

under its own weight: the astronomical costs and multiple decade timescale needed, made it an

intimidating and risky undertaking to fund and start (Grant, 2008).


Compared to NAWAPA, the GRAND (Great Recycling And Northern Development) scheme of the 1960’s

proposed by Newfoundland engineer Tom Kierans was at a more realistic scale, albeit still at a scale

large enough to be seen from space. Kierans proposed to block off James Bay from the Hudson Bay,

using a dike spanning the junction. This would allow freshwater from the many rivers that flow into the

James-Bay perimeter to accumulate, while saltwater would slowly drain out. Eventually, this enclosure

would turn into a large freshwater lake.

Now, armed with a massive freshwater reservoir, more populated areas of the South could benefit from

a new inflow. It would require a large network of pumps, canals and reversed rivers, these naturally

requiring large energy demands, as well as resulting in environmental impacts.

To this day, this project remains in incubation with its designer still optimistic of its inception (Wood,

2008; Clamen, 2011). Yet, the author of Dry Spring, Chris Wood, does not believe it will ever be

implemented. “Even enthusiastic engineers deride both blueprints for re-plumbing the continents as

extreme examples of hubristic overreach.” (Wood, 2008). With a $100 billion price tag, this is of no


2.3.4 The free-trade era: 1980s to 1999

During the 1980s, increasing environmental awareness was to compete with talks of international

commercial trade agreements for the attention of politicians. Therefore, the issue of bulk water exports

was intermittently a hot issue for Canadian politicians. For the first time, water was being characterised

as a potential commodity, while international organisations established it as a human right (United

Nations, 2010).

Under the new free-trade conditions, a few examples can be found in North America of tensions caused

by water export. They differed from the projects of the previous era, in that they were of a much lesser

scale, less sophisticated and more realistic (Grant, 2008). The promoters were enterprises, while

governments played the role of moderator. Therefore, rather than being shut down for being technically

and economically infeasible, they were shut down for political reasons.

One example (Grant, 2008; Wood, 2008) occurred in 1991. Sun Belt Water Inc. of Santa Monica,

California was the winner of a bid to supply a small American town with British-Columbian freshwater

through container ships. The deal was promptly halted by a Provincial moratorium on water exports.

Both Sun Belt Water Inc. and the Canadian company responsible for the supply end, Snowcap Waters of

Fanny Bay, attempted to sue the Federal government. Citing the investments section (specifically article

1105) of the NAFTA agreement, Sun Belt claimed they were being treated unfairly, yet since no other

Canadian company had been granted permission or an advantage for such an endeavour, the Federal

government dismissed the claim (Grant, 2008).

In light of this, Canadian Federal reports began calling out for legislation that would clearly and

permanently establish water resources as being protected from exportation. Grant (2008) has identified

and discussed a few of these policies, bills and reports. Ultimately, they would be scrapped or not fully

implemented, despite the Canadian government explicitly stating that they were against large-scale

diversions. Grant states ( 2008): “Any law banning the commercial export of this water ‘good’ to United

States, would run afoul of the trade deals”. The worry was that under the newly enacted FTA, and

eventually NAFTA, water could become a commodity, which would make Canadians lose sovereignty

over their water resources (Grant, 2008).

Another example widely cited occurred in 1998 (Grant, 2008; Wood, 2008). This time, a consortium

known as Nova Group was granted access to draw up to 10 000 cubic meters of water per day (0.12

MCS) from Lake Superior for export by ship to Asia. Permits were issued by the Ontario Ministry of the

Environment. This project was halted due to a large public outcry from both the Canadian and American

side of Lake Superior.

Legally, the project went against policy as there were constraints on water exports from the Great Lakes

Basin, not to mention that "the granting of such a permit by the province of Ontario ran counter to

principles of conservation and cooperation management set out in joint Province-State declarations

such as the Great Lakes Charter, a non-binding agreement drawn up in 1985 between the provinces and

states of the Great Lakes basin aimed at protecting their shared water resources.” (Grant, 2008).

2.3.5 The Federal Strategy: 1999 to early 2000s

The 90’s saw a handful of tanker-ship proposals. Even considering their aggregate effect, in continuous

operation year round, they could not significantly have an effect on water levels of the Great Lakes or of

coastal rivers. Yet, the Canadian government was adamant in its position to restrict these exports.

Allowing those few would set a precedent, perhaps a disastrous one. Once a few companies would be

allowed to ship water, any others could not be denied (Barlow, 2007; Heinmiller, 2003). The problem

could be amplified even more if international companies decided to get their share, while legally being

protected by international trade rules.

Meanwhile, an obstacle to enforcing this position was a shift in the Federal government’s position on

water trade. “Prior to the introduction of free trade, the Federal government attempted to deal with

water exports through the imposition of uniform national standards. After free trade, however,

harmonization efforts became more decentralized as Federal power over export controls diminished,

but Provincial powers over water-taking remained untouched.” (Heinmiller, 2003). This phenomenon of

shared jurisdiction is described in detail in Heinmiller (2003) and it is presented in the next section as

one of the difficulties resulting in a political embargo.

Nevertheless, with their goals and the obstacles in sight, Heinmiller (2003), as well as Grant (2008)

recognized the Canadian government’s strategy of prohibiting bulk water removals. By “framing [it] as

an environmental management issue [in the Federal Strategy], the Department of Foreign Affairs and

International Trade hoped to avoid trade challenges since an outright ban on water exports was

contrary to trade rules of the GATT and, subsequently, the NAFTA.” (Grant, 2008).

In 1999, the Canadian Federal government decided to push towards making water unlike other natural

resources, such as lumber or minerals, and hence not subject to trade laws. As long as the water was

underground, or in surface water, it was considered safe from trade obligations. “The logic underlying

this approach is that water in its natural state in rivers or lakes, for example is not considered a good

or a product and is not subject to international trade rules(Grant, 2008). Thus, the act specifically tried

to regulate water withdrawals, rather than water trade. (Heinmiller, 2003).

Grant (2008) continues this discussion by detailing the three elements of the 1999 Federal strategy:


Proposed amendments to the International Boundaries Waters Treaty Act:

Signed in 2001, this stipulated that bulk water removals would conflict with the initial intentions of the

1909 treaty. Both the Canadian and the American governments should be committed to maintaining

natural levels of shared water bodies. The Council of Canadians however warns that this amendment

applies only to boundary waters and not groundwater or surface waters, and provides no protection for

the rivers of Canada’s north” (Council of Canadians, 2007).


A proposed Canada-wide accord on bulk water removals by each individual Province:

Heinmiller (2003) describes the many difficulties incurred when harmonizing the Canadian government's

plan to ban bulk water transfer within the laws of each individual province.


Referring the issue to the IJC

The involvement of the IJC led to a document produced in 2000 (International Joint Commission, 2000).

In it, the IJC provided important recommendations to protect water. They also addressed the worries of

the free-trade agreements, but only specific to the Great Lakes Basin (Grant, 2008).

2.3.6 Current situation and difficulties

Large-scale water diversions have the potential to threaten Canada's sovereignty from the large and

relentless economic empire of the United States. Canadians do not want to be in the position where

they must perpetually submit their natural resources, water being the most precious of them, to trade

or else face huge penalties and the souring of other important trade relationships.

Thus the question becomes: today, does the Canadian government protect its water? It is clear that the

Great Lakes area is well protected, but what about the rivers that flow away from populations? The

Canadian government has plainly stated that they do not intend to open up trade negotiations (Richer,

2007), yet Maude Barlow (Barlow, 2007) clearly does not believe this to be entirely true. She expresses

her concern by calling it a myth that Canadians believe their government will protect natural water.

The following section describes some of the current difficulties that explain the ongoing struggle

towards conclusively preventing large-scale water transfers.

Difficulty 1: Jurisdiction

The article “Harmonization through emulation: Canadian federalism and water export policy” by

Timothy Heinmiller (Heinmiller, 2003) has an in-depth analysis of the difficulties incurred by the

decentralized Federal government to harmonize and standardize water policy throughout the Canadian

provinces and territories. Other sources also address jurisdictional conflict for policy enactments and

enforcement (Tremblay, 2011; Grant, 2008, Johns, 2008b).

The jurisdictional ambiguity stems from the fact that the original Canadian Constitution did not clearly

delineate and divide powers to decide on water issues. This is especially unclear considering the water

exports (Heinmiller, 2003; Grant, 2008). The provinces are responsible for their water resources, while

the Federal government is responsible for international trade. Johns (2008b) adds that “jurisdictional

complexity is also related to the physical nature of water resources

the multi-jurisdictional scale and

fugitive or transitory nature of water and its many interrelated uses make it hard to fit neatly within

well-defined categories of property rights.”

The fragmented nature of policies and their ambiguities have become a rather notorious problem in

Canadian water politics. Heinmiller (2003) highlights one example, section 109 in the Constitution act of

1867, in which provinces can cite proprietary rights over all publicly owned lands, and resources. This

has given the provinces the needed authority to sell their water. However, according to the much more

recent international trade agreements, it is the Federal government that should oversee and deal with

large-scale trading between countries. Also, as Heinmiller (2003) highlights, the Federal government has

jurisdiction over issues relating to navigation and inland fisheries. This has resulted in delays and

deferring of concrete measures to deal with the complexities of water export.

Although each province currently has laws that counter bulk water removals and export, Quinn (2007) is

of the opinion that there is little indication that these institutions are permanent or unassailable.

Difficulty 2: Northern versus shared water

It is well documented that there have been suitable initiatives and institutions created to protect and

manage cooperatively the boundary water between Canada and the United States (Quinn, 2007;

Clamen, 2011). It is also well known that these shared waters are not particularly abundant. They supply

water to a majority of the Canadian population, as well as a major portion on the American side, while

water levels have been anything but perfectly stable (Quinn, 2007; Wood, 2008; Grant, 2011).

As expressed before, there is abundant water that flows northwards into the Arctic Ocean, therefore

northern watercourses are considered the most vulnerable to water transfers. The Rupert River and

Eastmain Powerhouse case study discussed in the next chapter is a prime example where northern

flowing water had its direction reversed, despite being an expensive undertaking. It still happened, even

with vocal concern from aboriginal communities. Therefore we can conclude that the largest barrier to

exploiting northern water, and thus its protection, ultimately is basic economics and practical feasibility,

and not public opposition, political power or institutions.

Difficulty 3: trade agreements

As described above, the late 1980s saw the emergence and development of free-trade agreements.

Perhaps more than anything else, with the introduction of the FTA and then NAFTA which superseded it,

came the reduction in influence of the Federal government (Heinmiller, 2003). With respect to IBWT,

under NAFTA, the Canadian governments (both Federal and Provincial) are restricted from imposing

export controls on water goods. The only exception to this is if there is a serious environmental

emergency that can justify such a restriction (Heinmiller, 2003). Also, any type of profit-making venture

for water export must be open to investors in all three countries. In other words, profit from our water

cannot be forced to remain here (Barlow, 2007). This could be seen as unfair, given that it is the

Canadian environment that is being degraded. Authors have expressed concern regarding

proportionality requirements, and the difficulties it could generate when environmental concerns would

call for reductions in exports (Grant, 2008; Barlow, 2007; Heinmiller, 2003).

Difficulty 4: pressure from economic development sectors

Even with the active approach of the Canadian Federal government and its resistance to water transfers,

the literature warns of the pressure from economic development sectors (Barlow, 2007). For example,

“water export may soon become one of the issues, joining energy, on the agenda of the Security and

Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral initiative to increase the economic integration of Canada, the

United States and Mexico” (Quinn, 2007). If all three North American countries were to aggressively

adopt this type of planned economic development, it would be of no surprise that water sharing could

be a top priority for all three countries. Canada might be anxious to put something of value on the table,

such as its large freshwater supply.

Difficulty 5: Consequences of banning, and compromised alternatives

Many researchers criticize the Canadian Federal government for not being very clear, when given the

chance, about water exports. Heimiller (2003) and Grant (2008) both discuss how the Canada Water Act

of 1970 could have, but failed to directly address water exports through a permanent ban. Since the

ambitious projects of the 1960s, there has been a call from both the Canadian public and

environmentalists urging for a national ban on water exports once and for all (Heinmiller, 2003).

Sasseville & Abdessalem (2005) argue that it is the sheer grandeur of the issue that is inhibiting political

decisiveness. Moving water across a geopolitical landscape is a very complex question that brings up

many economic, social and environmental difficulties and unknowns for politicians. They therefore do

not want to touch it as the implications and the uncertainties are too large. Envisioning bulk water

exports requires planning on a timescale of decades. Many politicians are empowered for no more than

a few years.

Given that our laws can change, and that amendments and exceptions can be added, an outright ban

might not be the most effective way of preventing water exports. Maintaining a constant study of the

practical and environmental nature of the issue, while consistently showing the infeasibility, destructive

potential, and unpopularity of this option, is the best course of action.

The bottom line

Although the various difficulties are presented as distinct, they are very much interconnected. For

example, the establishment of trade agreements caused much of the jurisdictional conflicts;

jurisdictional conflicts have provided an excuse for the government to delay and defer bans, or

otherwise avoid dealing with the water export issue.

With all this, it is obviously important to finally answer the simple question: with respect to the various

constitutions, institutions, trade agreements, policies, and other forms of control, are international bulk

water transfers possible? This bottom line is perfectly described in Grant (2008):

“While some Canadian businesspeople see trade in bulk water as a source of untapped wealth and

a potential growth industry for the 21st century, many others view it as a looming environmental

catastrophe and a major threat to Canadian sovereignty. Current Federal and Provincial policies in

Canada have stymied the bulk water export business thus far, but it remains a prospective new

economic user of Canadian water, clearly challenging the institutionalized status quo.”

In other words, despite every obstacle in the way of bulk water transfer, such as current public

opposition, political sentiments, and even the obvious practical infeasibility of such projects, we cannot

fully remove from the table, the idea of international water transfers.


Case Studies

This section describes a few key case studies of both proposed and operational IBWT projects. Table 1

summarizes the key features of each case, and the main purpose of studying it.

Table 1 Summary and purpose of Case studies

Case study


Transfer method




Discusses the process a government should



pipeline, canal,

take to thoroughly assess the feasibility of a IBWT proposal.

case study:

schemes to


Kimberley to

supply expected



increases in

There are also lessons learned from design specification of water resource sourcing, pipeline design, hydraulic structures, environmental impacts and cost analysis






Design and arrangement of hydraulic




structures, and river works specific to Northern


operational for


Quebec landscapes.




-Requirements for Environmental Impact Statements in Quebec.

& Sarcelle



and Rupert

Example of the socio-political climate and consequences of a large water project in Canada.





Operational for

Canal, tunnels,

Example of a functional cap-and-trade system of water resource allocation.



municipal and



irrigation supply


3.1 Australian case study: Kimberley to Perth

Water resource allocation in Australia is strictly managed to protect fragile ecosystems that rely on what

little water exists in the deserts and grasslands. Australia is a dry continent that will only get dryer. It has

unevenly distributed precipitation and runoff. Most of the freshwater is contained in 5 coastal drainage

areas (Ghassemi & White, 2007).

The amount of renewable water that is available has been diligently measured (5.2x10 9 m 3 /year for

surface water and 6.3x10 9 m 3 /year for groundwater) and water authorities are set on not surpassing

these amounts for supply (Ghassemi & White, 2007). From an environmental standpoint, this will

prevent impacts from water resource depletion, but it necessitates some kind of urgent response from

water authorities to find other ways to maintain water security. The obvious first action is to take active

measures to reduce consumption. Yet, there might very well come a point where demand will exceed

the potential of the traditional supply, despite all measures that could be taken to curb demand.

The case study focuses on the metropolitan area of Perth on the South-Western coast. It has an

estimated current population of 1.7 million which is rising (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). The

urban area is located in a dry-temperate climate zone. Supplying this growing population with water has

been problematic, and it is becoming especially worrisome with perceived and anticipated impacts of

climate change combined with increases in consumption (Ghassemi & White, 2007). This prediction is

shown graphically (Figure 4, prepared by Water Corporation (2009)), where the yearly breakdown of the

various supply methods is superimposed on the trend for expected demand. Note the gradual

divergence between supply and demand starting in 2017, where water supply authorities will either be

forced to tap into non-sustainable supplies, or to try non-traditional means, such as IBWT or

desalination. Neither are desirable. Both are high energy consumers and are expensive to set up and

operate. Both will generate environmental impacts. Both will cause controversy and opposition.

Figure 4 Future water supply versus demand in the Perth Metropolitan Area. (Water Corporation, 2005)

Figure 4 Future water supply versus demand in the Perth Metropolitan Area. (Water Corporation, 2005)

The Australian government is aware of this, thus they have conceded to study and compare the non-

traditional and controversial options against the traditional ones (GWA, 2006; Water Corporation,

2005). Therefore, when the time comes to make decisions and to take active steps, all options would be

weighed in terms of the least possible environmental impact and economic costs. Figure 5 shows

conceptually what is being considered and compared.

Figure 5 Traditional supply versus new options for Perth region 3.1.1 Political perspective: a complete

Figure 5 Traditional supply versus new options for Perth region

3.1.1 Political perspective: a complete study by Australian water authorities

The idea of transporting water down to Perth from Kimberley began to garner public attention in the

late 1980’s (Keating, 2006). The concept was straightforward: transfer water to Perth from North-

Western Australia, specifically from the Kimberley water catchment, which is a water rich area with a

tropical-savannah climate and minimal population. Beginning in 2004, the state government of Western

Australia assembled an expert and professional panel to assess the financial and technical feasibility of

transporting water from Kimberley. According to water authorities (GWA, 2006):

“The composition of the panel brought together a wealth of expertise in the areas of: economics,

engineering, environment and water expertise. The panel was well balanced and while protecting

its independence was focused on the task at hand as per the terms of reference

While the

technical and financial viability of each option was a central focus of the Panel’s terms of

reference, equally important was the Panel’s evaluation of social and environmental impacts. The

Panel therefore sought consultancy reports on these impacts, and also consulted with the

community in Kimberley.”

Indeed, this is a good example of a government taking their water resource situation seriously. The

argument here is that the Canadian government, as well as the Provincial governments, should follow

suit. It is not enough to just implement an outright ban on water exports; there should be accompanying

technical, engineering, and ecological based studies, that include socio-economic considerations, to back

up and justify these institutional restrictions.

Transport methods

Three proposed methods to transfer water over the long distance from Kimberley to Perth were

proposed: an underground pipeline, a lined canal, and oceanic transport (via tanker-ships or towed

water bags). The pipeline and tanker will be discussed as they were the most realistic and applicable to

the proposals of chapter 4 of this project.

3.1.2 Pipeline method

Source options

Over the years, many sites have been considered as potential source points (locations where water

would be extracted for transfers). The 2004-2006 study (GWA, 2006) considers both the Fitzroy and Ord

river basins. Due to its relatively high flow rates and southern location, the Fitzroy River was found to be


Preliminary studies revealed both high seasonal and yearly variations of the Fitzroy River’s discharge.

Therefore a significant amount of engineered intervention would be required to stabilize flows, given

the importance of having a reliable and consistent flow from the source. Large volumes of water would

have to be stored by using either a dammed reservoir, or an off-stream contained reservoir. This has led

to numerous options, in terms of the location of hydraulic structures, extraction methods and storage

facility types.

Routes variants

In addition to the source point, the conveyance path options have also been discussed thoroughly. This

paper will focus on the most recent: the two options presented in the 2004-2006 study (GWA, 2006;

Water Corporation, 2004). The first route is an in-land direct path, which starts at the William barrage

and follows the Great Northern highway for 1 900 kilometers. The second follows the Kalgoorlie and the

G&AWS natural gas pipeline. It was found that the advantages of building along a pre-existing pipeline,

which would leverage a certain amount of pre-existing infrastructure and vegetation clearage, did not

outweigh the cost of a substantially longer (500 km) conveyance path. Therefore, the first option was


The design criteria were as follows:

Required yearly discharge would start at 100 billion liters per year (3.2 MCS), and increase to

300 billion liters (9.5 MCS). This matches the forecasted deficit of water supply.

The study was to be done over a 50 year life cycle.

The pipe diameters were to be between 400 mm to 1 800 mm in diameter.

The pipe material options were traditional high-pressure steel, high-pressure rubber ring jointed

ductile iron piping, plastic piping, or concrete piping (Water Corporation, 2004). The maximum

allowable pressure in the pipeline was not specified, nor was the available pumping capability,

but it is assumed that these constraints were considered when designing the proposal.

The results of the study found that the optimal diameter of the pipeline to be 1 400 mm, and the

material would be traditional high-pressure steel with the concrete lining. The other options for material

were not chosen due to concerns of the high pressures involved, and the lack of large-scale examples

that show reliability or price competitiveness.

To overcome the change in elevation, four hydraulic pumping stations would be required along the

route. This is illustrated by the hydraulic grade line in the elevation profile graph (figure 6). In terms of

energy use, this scheme would require 100 MW at the Fitzroy source, and 30 MW for each pumping

station along the route.

source, and 30 MW for each pumping station along the route. Figure 6 Elevation profile of

Figure 6 Elevation profile of pipeline (from Water Corporation (2004))

The pipeline would terminate at the Canning Dam in Westdale, 80 kilometers south east of Perth. This is

the current reservoir that services the Perth region.

Other considerations

Water quality: Ensuring a clean water supply at the end is a crucial design element. Prior to being

injected into the pipelines, the flow would be subjected to screening, sedimentation and granular media

filtration (GWA, 2006). This would remove solid particles and colloids. To prevent contamination from

pathogens, the water would be disinfected. Given the length of the pipeline and concerns for the

potential for pathogenic growth, some kind of booster chlorination treatment could be required at a

midpoint of the pipeline.

Power supply: Various options for supplying power to the pumping stations and treatment plants are

described (Ghassemi & White, 2007). The options would be to (1) use the power generated from the

already built infrastructure servicing the Perth metropolitan area, (2) use individual diesel fuel stations,

(3) use tidal power from the Kimberley region, or (4) use solar power stations. In terms of minimized

costs, it was found that the best alternative would be to use pre-existing power plants.

Aboriginal heritage: In their analysis of the proposal, Water Corporation (2004) express that a major

stumbling block and politically sensitive issue would be that of aboriginal heritage. Although it would be

temporary in most cases, the construction process has the potential of going through a number of

aboriginal sites of significant importance. These include settlements, native land title claims,

watercourses used by aboriginals, and protected undisturbed areas.

Economic activity along pipeline: A possible benefit of using a traversing pipeline would be to build

several intermediate extraction points for various domestic, industrial, or agricultural uses. It was found

that due to the exorbitant increases in infrastructure costs, it would not be economically feasible.

(Water Corporation, 2004)

Social impacts: Land access issues for transportation, increases in traffic on smaller roads, and

community severance are significant negative impacts of the construction process (thus only short-term

problems). According to Water Corporation (2004), “the majority of these issues are able to be

mitigated through planning and good management and are unlikely to be of significant impact.”

Environmental impacts: Listed by Water Corporation (2004) are the most foreseeable and significant

environmental impacts:

1. Energy expenditure and greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions and energy expenditure would come mainly from operating the energy intensive pumps. Also

significant is the energy required for fabricating the steel pipes, and for transporting all the material.

Pumping would require an estimated 14 Wh per liter. Comparatively, desalination uses 5 Wh per liter. If

powered by natural gas power plants, CO 2 emissions would approach 2.5 mT per year. Options to curb

carbon emissions include carbon sequestration and solar energy, both of which under present and

projected technology are not economical or feasible.

2. Impacts on the discharge of the Fitzroy River source.

Water Corporation (2004) insists that a thorough assessment of the hydrological system of the river is

required. It is currently unregulated and as such a minimum environmental flow, to sustain the region’s

ecology, river regime, floodplain, and water quality has not been established.

3. Environmental impacts of constructing storage dams and containers.

A storage dam requires the flooding of a large area. Land use for a walled storage facility (as an alternate

option) is similar. Impacts include threats to local species, habitat loss, and conflicts with aboriginal

heritage sites.

4. Environmental impacts of pipeline length.

The construction phase would require a 30 m wide cleared surface. Soil disturbances, loss of vegetation

and habitat destruction would be expected. Also, the movement of vehicles and machinery for

construction could risk spreading undesirable plants and species along the pipeline route. These impacts

could be considered as temporary, and measures such as minimizing erosion, sedimentation, and

contaminations should be taken.

The study concludes that “The majority of biodiversity impacts, apart from those affected by the

environmental flow of the Fitzroy, are likely to be mitigated through environmental management plans,

construction management and rehabilitation work.” (Water Corporation, 2004).

3.1.3 Oceanic transport method

Source options

Both the Ord and the Fitzroy Rivers were considered variants for the water source (see figure 7). In the

end, the Ord River was chosen, despite the Fitzroy’s advantage of a shorter transport path down to

Perth. By utilizing the already established infrastructure, which is chiefly a storage dam (GWA, 2006),

significant savings in initial capital could be had.

2006), significant savings in initial capital could be had. Figure 7 Source point variants From the

Figure 7 Source point variants

From the barrage near the town of Kununurra, a 162 km pressurized pipeline would be built to feed a

basic water treatment plant (similar treatment as the pipeline scheme). An additional underwater

pipeline, (47 km in length, optimally designed with epoxy coated welded steel given the expensive

nature of underwater piping), would connect to a single-point mooring loading facility (figure 8).

to a single-point mooring loading facility (figure 8). Figure 8 Mooring facility loads the cargo vessel

Figure 8 Mooring facility loads the cargo vessel with water (GWA, 2006)

Conveyance method

Two options were considered to transport water

around the coast. The first would use oceanic

supertankers commonly employed in the largest oil

shipments. New vessels were considered for the

analysis, with a price tag of 215 million CAD$ each.

Similarly to the pipeline scheme, the volume of

shipped water would gradually increase over time.

As described by GWA (2006): “At a practical maximum average speed of 15 knots (about 30 km/hour), it

would require at least four ships of 500,000 dead-weight tonnes operating on a continual 14-day

delivery cycle to deliver 50 GL/year (1.6 MCS). Fourteen of the same tankers would be needed to deliver

200 GL/year (6.3 MCS).”

tankers would be needed to deliver 200 GL/year (6.3 MCS).” Figure 9 Floating water bags (GWA,

Figure 9 Floating water bags (GWA, 2006)

The second transport option would be to pull floating

water bags. Large tug boats would be used for towing (see

figure 9). This option was considered difficult to analyze

given the lack of case experience of using them, especially

at the required scale of several hundred GL per year over a 5 decade timeline. A rudimentary

assessment found this option to be substantially less cost effective, yet a scenario using 0.5GL bags was

included in the final economic analysis. GWA (2006) expressed that more research and development of

this technology is required.

Results from GWA (2006) study

It the end, given the expected rise in water demand, it was found that the lowest cost option would be

to supply water using oceanic supertankers. The cost would come to $6.70 /m 3 , which is about five

times the cost of desalination. The result of the comparison between the options of the GWA (2006)

report is summarized in Appendix A. The conclusions of this report was that inter-basin water was

infeasible on many fronts, with cost and energy consumption (both initial and operational) being the

most deterring. Other deterring factors included the risks and unknowns associated with the options,

environmental impacts (especially green-house gas emissions due to the high energy requirements), and

social impacts.

Conflicting Perspectives

Many researchers beyond those who actually conducted this particular study, argued against long-

distance water transfers given the potential environmental devastation and due to a lack of economic

feasibility. However, upon conducting extensive research of the various ideas and proposals to divert

water in Western Australia, it became apparent that the options, estimates, and the final numbers and

conclusions are biased. Indeed, the results depend largely on who is conducting the study, what their

interests are, where they have sourced their data, and what their predictions and assumptions are.

Some members of the public are advocating for water transfers. A pertinent example would be the

pressure from Michael Derry, a business consultant who has many years of experience in dealing with

the oil industry and specifically in shipping large volumes of liquid (Derry, n.d.). Recognizing that this

person has a business bias and much to gain from such an undertaking (as is a common situation with

professionals who push for IBWT projects), his voice should nevertheless be heard.

Derry’s website encourages the Australian government to take the issue of water transfers seriously.

Indeed, the proper steps were taken: the government assembled a competent committee which carried

out a thorough investigation through data acquisition and analysis. Yet, Derry does not agree with the

conclusions drawn from the comparison of technologies and water supply methods.

“…We are concerned that the Committee was given no role by the Government to challenge or

investigate the key information and assumptions given to it by the Water Corporation. These facts

were taken as fixed and had a crucial bearing on the Committee's final report. Consequently a

reader of the report gets the mistaken impression that comparing a dollar assessment of one

option in the report against the dollar assessment of another one gives a correct and accurate

assessment of the costs.” (Derry, n.d.)

This is indeed a strong argument and it reflects the complexity of the issue. The standard method of

comparing dollar costs, when these include difficult to assess environmental impacts, is not absolute.

Indeed costs are not "an exact science" as Derry states. Derry argues that, based on his professional

experience and interest in keeping costs minimized, in his assessment the costs are vastly reduced. He

lists many factors which could substantially reduce the cost: using used ships, considering a better

extraction point, being less strict with regulations compared to oil shipments, and slowing the boat

speed to maximize energy efficiency. However the merits of these cost savings must be evaluated.

Derry (n.d.) also questions the assessments of cost, energy consumption, and of the environmental

impacts for the implementation of desalination plants.

This indicates the complexity of comparing large-scale technologies. It provides further motivation to

study the issue from many viewpoints. It also suggests the value of contracting many different

organizations to conduct studies, to ensure that the issue may be comprehensively and conclusively be


3.2 Québec's northern water: Eastmain-1-A, Sarcelle powerhouses and Rupert River diversions

For the past 50 years, Hydro-Québec has been very active in harvesting the energy from rivers that flow

westward into James Bay. Its focus on the James Bay region is due to the large total discharge of the

many rivers draining therein.

The challenge, however, is that the infrastructure and capital costs needed to build a Hydro facility is

extremely large, especially since a remote setting results in high materials and labour costs. Furthermore,

the water which drains westward into James Bay is not carried by a single large river, but rather a

collection of small and medium rivers.

The task has therefore been to dam a few of the larger rivers, divert and collect the flow through a

system of diversions, canals, and controlled floodplains, store the aggregate flow in a larger reservoir,

and finally discharge this water via a series of hydropower stations at a rate that matches the demand

for energy. This therefore qualifies as an inter-basin water transfer, as the water from one or a few river

basins is prevented from flowing towards its natural outlet, but is diverted into another basin. A typical

Hydro-Québec project entails 3 zones: (1) a damned and diverted upstream zone, (2) a downstream

zone of reduced flow, and (3) rivers and lakes having increased flows and volumes.

Project Description

The Eastmain powerhouse and Rupert diversion project is typical in this schematic sense, but atypical in

its magnitude, use of technology and measures needed for environmental preservation. The plan was to

divert the flow of the Rupert River north into the Eastmain reservoir. The flow would be directed

through two new powerhouses (the Eastmain-1-A, and Sarcelle), then towards the pre-existing

reservoirs and powerhouses further north (LaGrande complex). The potential net energy production was

estimated at 8.5 TWh (HQ, 2004).

3.2.1 The Required Environmental Impact Statement

In 2002, agreements were signed between Hydro-Québec and the Cree of Quebec (the First Nation

group of the James Bay region). The Cree consented to the construction and operation of the project,

given a commitment from Hydro-Québec to ensure that the project was fully subject to applicable

environmental legislation (the Paix-des-Braves treaty). This was to protect the environment and

aboriginal communities by ensuring that mitigation and remedial efforts would be undertaken. In

addition, the Cree communities were promised economic and community benefits (HQ, 2004).

In early 2004, Hydro-Québec published a voluminous environmental impact statement (EIS) (HQ, 2004).

This was presented to both the Québec Minister of the Environment, as required by the Québec

Environment Quality Act, and a Federal review panel (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada,

Transport Canada , Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency), as required by the Canadian

Environmental Assessment Act.

The EIS document as well as the whole project review and assessment process was set up to prove that

the project was “profitable under market conditions, environmentally acceptable, and well received by

local communities” (HQ, 2004). The project also made efforts to include native community involvement.

“Systematic inclusion of the Cree in conducting surveys of the various environmental components thus

ensured that Cree traditional knowledge was taken into account in establishing procedures for sampling

and field data collection and analysis” (HQ, 2004).

The evaluation and assessment process of the EIS included a review and submission of

recommendations by the Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee (COMEX), public

participation through consultations and hearings, and the permits issued by the described governing

bodies. The details of this process and the conclusions are found in the COMEX (2006) report.


Most of the above information was provided directly by the Hydro-Québec side of the project, which

naturally presents the project with their bias. Several sources have presented the other side of the issue.

In 2006, news outlets (Bonspiel, 2006; CBC, 2006 ) and Northern community blogs (Northern Waterways,

2006) were reporting dissatisfaction from Cree Nations about delayed completion of the environmental

impact statement, as required in the COMEX procedure, as well as disapproval that the construction

phase has started prematurely. There was also a news report concerning the Nunavut communities

living across the Hudson’s bay (CBC, 2006). They were concerned with water quality issues that would

arise from increases in fresh water being released at unnatural levels into the Hudson’s Bay. In addition,

in 2004 the National Public Radio published an article describing the detrimental consequences of dams

and reservoirs in a river of high biological activity. (Mann, 2004).

Cree communities were subjected to community uprooting and losses of forest land (hunting areas). The

Quebec government had clearly stated that there would be problems of water quality:

“Bioaccumulation of mercury is part of the negative impacts of the Eastmain-1-A Powerhouse and

Rupert Diversion project. The project will cause mercury increases in the fish in six areas.” This would

lead to fish consumption limitations in the Cree Nation (MMDEP, n.d.).

The project also raised the controversial questions of whether hydro-electricity can be considered a

renewable energy source. Some studies have shown that GHG emissions of hydro reservoirs can

surprisingly exceed that of similar power output coal burning plants (Montreal Environment, 2011).

Hydro-Québec is aware of this and is in-turn concerned about the resulting negative image of hydro-

power. It has therefore undertaken public-relations efforts in order to de-bunk some of the so-called

‘myths’ (for example, see www.hydroforthefuture.com).

Cree Opposition

In 2006, three Cree tribes claimed that they never gave their consent to Hydro-Québec, and were set to

oppose the development after tallying community votes (Bonspiel, 2006; Northern Waterways, 2006).

They were not claiming to go against the Paix-des-Braves treaty, but felt that their voices were not being

heard and that there was a lack of open communication with the project’s stakeholders (Bonspiel, 2006).

After explaining how his tribe was mislead into thinking Hydro-Québec still had not obtained the

approvals for the diversions, Waskaganish Chief Robert Weistche expressed his distress: “This is cultural

genocide on First Nations people and the governments are aware of that. Why do we have such high

rates of social problems like drugs and drinking? The suicide rate went up after the project went through

in Chisasibi [referring to a Cree community that was affected by the diversions of the La Grande project],

and we’re going to be subject to the same thing later on down the road”. (Bonspiel, 2006)

When discussing the frustrations felt by native community leaders, one example shows that a firm

stance with aggressive public outreach can influence decisions. In the early 1990’s, the Great-Whale

project came to a halt after a series of effective public relations efforts led by Cree communities

(Mercier & Ritchot, 1997). Weistche felt that his tribe was not given the opportunity to react in such a

way this time around (although some smaller protests were organized) (Bonspiel, 2006).

“When you uproot people from their birthplace, from where they used to gather, from where they

raised their family and tell them they have to move because the land is going to wash away and erode;

you’re bound to have something happen inside that person [referring to suicide rates, depression and

alcoholism of the Cree Nation].” (Bonspiel, 2006).

Finally, Weistche expresses how it is inappropriate to assume that Native peoples would be satisfied by

monetary remuneration in exchange for their homeland. “The rivers, the land; the reality is that it is part

of who we are. They cannot separate the land from the Cree, that is who we are.” (Bonspiel, 2006).

3.2.2 Engineering Aspects

The design criteria and design of the engineering interventions required to divert the Rupert River and

to contain it in the Rupert Diversion Bays are important in determining the technical and economic

feasibility of an inter-basin water transfer project. The design and selection methods used to determine

the optimum hydraulic structures, the required environmental protection and mitigation efforts are

described. The end result is a detailed plan to best train or control a river and to retain a floodplain,

specific to northern regions of Quebec. This knowledge can be extended and applied, with reasonable

assumptions to other parts of Canada; especially in the other regions of the Canadian Shield, within

which lies Hudson Bay.


By the late 1990’s, Hydro-Québec engineers saw the hydro-power potential of the Rupert River basin

and began preliminary studies and the evaluation of the options (HQ, 2004). As for other hydro projects,

this involved obtaining and considering the following information:

Topography & bathymetry: where is the natural terrain, and existence of hills and valleys, favourable

for water level increases? Where are land gradients favourable for flow conveyance? What will be the

extent of the requirements for dikes, spurs and levees to contain rising waters? How wide and high must

dams be constructed?

Geology: How much excavation is required, and how and what is the hardness of the soil and bedrock?

What are other geological features of importance, such as the direction and steepness of fractures? Is

seismic activity an issue? Is fill material, required for dams, dikes and other structures, available nearby?

Hydrology: How does seasonal variability of precipitation and stream flow effect the reliability of the


Environment: How much flow can be harnessed, and how much has to be allocated to the environment?

What are the sensitive species? How will altered environments affect the surrounding region?

Climate: In northern environments, hydraulic structures have requirements for proper ice cover

formation to minimize frazil ice that may interfere with inlet structures. Therefore, temperature

fluctuations have to be accounted for, and the design of hydraulic elements must account for minimum

flow velocities.

As described in the EIS (HQ, 2004), this analysis resulted in various options at the different steps. There

were options regarding the location of dams on the Rupert River, the arrangement of the floodplains,

the placement of the diversion corridors , the location of the powerhouses, and a choice between a

system of canals or an underground tunnel to bypass a section of especially mountainous terrain.

The process of comparing each option at each step is thoroughly described in the EIS (HQ, 2004).

Pertinent to this report are not these details, rather it is important to note the general advantages and

drawbacks that were considered and their relative importance.

Advantages: This project serves to produce hydro-electricity. Therefore, the options are weighted on

their potential to provide reliable flow into hydro-power reservoirs, while minimizing the need for costly

hydraulic structures and environmental protection efforts.

Drawbacks: The most obvious drawbacks are the direct environmental impacts, which is mainly the total

flooded area. Flooded areas have impacts on land and aquatic wildlife, as well as on the hunting by the

Cree. Specifically, much attention is paid on the potential for flooding of category II lands, which are

designated native hunting and fishing areas. Also, while one area is flooded, another has reduced flow.

This also has impacts on habitats, especially on fish breeding grounds. There are also notable impacts on

navigation, fishing and recreation.

Hydraulic structures

Retaining structures (dams and dykes): Rivers that discharge into the East coast of the James-Bay flow

westwards due to down sloping terrain. To overcome the natural slope, dams are used to raise water

levels, which permits water to pool and eventually spill northwards (hence a northward diversion),

without the use of head-inducing pumping stations. These are strategically placed so that the diverted

flow takes the shortest route to the Eastmain reservoir and its powerhouses; they are also placed far

enough downstream that they collect enough discharge from the watershed’s tributary area.

The main dam, Rupert C-1, (figure 10 shows a plan view) retains an average of 637 MCS which

represents 73% of the total flow of the Rupert watershed. It is a rock filled dam, lying on a solid bedrock


Figure 10 Plan view of C-1 dam (HQ, 2004) The three additional dams do not

Figure 10 Plan view of C-1 dam (HQ, 2004)

The three additional dams do not block the Rupert River but are barriers to the other westward

drainage paths and used to contain the artificially rising water levels.

Other retaining structures, such as the large dikes, but also smaller spurs and levees, play a similar role.

Rather than blocking off flowing streams, they serve to create an artificial valley to contain the rising

water level. Using a topographic map, the engineers can predict how wide a floodplain can be expected

for given water stages (heights). In some locations, especially where flatter terrain exists, a dyke is

needed to limit the flooded area, otherwise water levels would not sufficiently increase.

The availability of construction materials, especially concrete and steel, is a limiting factor in dam and

dike design for northern Quebec. Dames are very large structures; the largest one for this project is 50

m high and close to 400 m wide. Dikes are not as high, but they are very numerous (74 in total) and can

be several hundred meters long. Together, dams and dykes will need 5.3 million m 3 of fill material. A

geologic survey of the area has provided Hydro-Québec with many sites in the vicinity that could provide

material for the structures. The material is mostly granular: till, sand, and gravel, and coarser material

needed for a riprap covering. Figure 11 shows the cross-section for a typical dike.

Figure 11 Cross section of typical dyke showing fill constituents (HQ, 2004) Release Structures: The

Figure 11 Cross section of typical dyke showing fill constituents (HQ, 2004)

Release Structures: The release structure (also called outlet work) for the main dam works to both allow

for spring flood water to be quickly and safely discharged downstream, and to systematically regulate

the normal discharge of the dam. For dam C-1, a gate was designed on the left side. Using the hydraulic

gate opening, the flow is controlled and released depending on how much is allotted for feeding the

Eastmain reservoir at a given time (the maximum is 800 MCS). The EIS (HQ, 2004) describes the gate as a

conventional concrete structure with steel armoring and reinforced slots. An electrical line supplies

power for the hoist and the heating system.

The other dams have a tunnel-type release system. The gate is placed on the upstream side to prevent

high-pressure situations in the tunnel when water levels are high.

Powerhouses: several powerhouses and related structures are described thoroughly in the

environmental impact statement. Much attention is paid to flow rates and surface velocities,

considering the high latitude and potential for problems due to ice formation.

Weirs: flow rates downstream of the dams on the Rupert River will be heavily reduced. Measures to

ensure adequate water levels along the river reach are necessary to protect what is remaining of the

river’s aquatic habitat, especially for fish migration. A system of 8 weirs in series was positioned, in

addition to several dikes to maintain a narrow and deep river cross-section.

Canals: Canals were typically designed for sections of flatter terrain, to limit the flooded area. In many

cases canals are less costly than a parallel system of dykes. Canals were also used to traverse obstacles

in the terrain such as hills. They have the advantage of improving hydraulic conditions, especially

controlling head losses incurred when conveying water.

Transfer Tunnels: When building canals becomes uneconomical (due to depth of excavation), a transfer

tunnel can be used. At one point, excavating a canal through particularly rough terrain was found to be

too expensive, therefore a tunnel was designed to go under this terrain. Using a specially designed weir,

the flow into the tunnel is managed. The tunnel is designed to convey between 100 and 800 MCS, all

while being completely submerged to prevent instabilities caused by cavitations when air at varying

pressures gets entrained into the tunnel. The optimal design of the tunnels cross-section dimension and

longitudinal profile and geometry were calculated with sophisticated hydraulic modeling software.

Other structures: Many other engineering structures and other considerations significant to the Rupert

River and Eastmain 1-A project, described in the EIS, or by Hydro-Québec elsewhere, are worth

mentioning, but are beyond the measures used to divert and transfer bulk water. These include new

transmission lines; access roads and bridges; temporary work camps; measures for a safe, clean, and

efficient construction phase; native community resettlements; forest clearing and management;

excavation of borrow pits and quarries for materials; stabilization of riverbanks near vulnerable areas;

fish ladder requirements; and in-depth details of powerhouse components like turbines, substations and

control structures.

3.3 Colorado Big-Thompson project

Completed in the late 1940s, the Colorado Big-Thompson project is a trans-mountainous inter-basin

water diversion project implemented to supply water to the North-Eastern side of the Rocky Mountains

in Colorado. The original application was mainly for irrigation, yet since then it has also supplied water

needs for emerging municipalities and industrial activity. The system was built and is operated by the

The Bureau of Reclamation, a Federal department (Bureau of Reclamation, n.d.).

From an engineering standpoint, the project is impressive and remarkable for its time, in its grand scale,

use of technology, and ease of regulation. The source is the eastern, upstream region of the Colorado

River, which was dammed to form a reservoir. A 13 mile long underground canal led from the reservoir

and through the Continental divide, into a system of smaller reservoirs, diversion canals, and pipelines,

which eventually supplement the flow to natural streams of the larger South Platte River. In terms of

hydraulic structures, there are hydropower stations, as well as various substations and pumping plants

(Bureau of Reclamation, n.d.).

3.3.1 A working water market

The Colorado Big-Thompson project can be studied as a relevant, North American example of a

gradually established and equilibrated water market. The system can be seen as similar in structure to a

cap-and-trade system of carbon emissions (Wood, 2011): the amount of discharge out of a source is

"capped"; users within the system are allotted a fixed and fair share; users can subsequently trade away

whatever reserve they do not expect to need. The end result is that the total allowable emissions, or in

the case of the Big-Thompson project, the total yearly environmentally allowed flow consumption, is

never surpassed. The trade and exchange of shares is accomplished through either short-term or

permanent agreements. There is trade between farmers and municipalities (Wood, 2008).

This case study, brought up in Dry Spring (Wood, 2008) and again mentioned in an interview with Wood

(2011), is pertinent because it serves to ease some of the commonly held anxieties associated with

market-driven water trading. This project exists in stark contrast to most other areas in the United-

States, where local trading of water rights halted for political and legal reasons, but could have some

economic potential. According to Wood (2008):

“Permitted transfers of water out of farming to urban use have been rare [in other parts of the

United-States]. Several factors stand in the way. The ambiguity of farmer’s legal rights to sell the

water they’ve been using leaves many afraid that if they try to sell it, governments will revoke

their title. A complex state water law, with elements of both prior appropriation and riparian

systems, further complicates sales between properties, as do multiple states and Federal oversight

agencies that must sign off on large transactions.

Wood (2008) continues by introducing the Colorado big Thompson project as a more “seamless market

in bulk water that has operated in northern Colorado for 5 decades”.

In Dry Spring (Wood, 2008) and in an interview, Wood emphasizes the lessons learned from this

“working experiment in harnessing the power of market choice” (Wood, 2008). Some of the key lessons


That water markets do not arise spontaneously, due to the constraints of the regulatory

environment, and therefore it is unlikely that all water will be traded on a water market.

Water right does not necessarily translate to ownership of water, rather it is more of a right

to use it, such as a rental agreement.

Transaction costs must remain low and the process easily executable

In successfully operated water markets, the sharing of water can be considered fair, i.e.

wealthy corporations do not have considerable advantages over others, and hence

uninhibited environmental devastation is contained.

Permission to trade privately in water rights can coexist in perfect harmony with the public

protection of water in the environments. Indeed, it a requirement.

Wood (2008) emphasizes the advantage of the adaptability of free markets: “Where these

conditions exist, markets have advantages that will become increasingly desirable as the weather

changes. In growing food, which is the human activity that uses by far the largest amounts of

water, markets direct water to the most efficient, productive users. They do this automatically,

flexibly and free of governments slow-moving, politicized hand.”


Water Transfer Proposals

Using the information gained in the previous two chapters, possible water transfer projects in Canada

can be identified and investigated. A few potential projects will be proposed, with some development

details provided for each. Following this, a qualitative assessment and comparison of each proposal will

be made which will lead to general conclusions about the potential of IBWT in Canada.

4.1 Methodology

The development and assessment of potential IBWT projects requires the identification of the source

and the destination of the water, which are the extraction and consumption zones respectively, and the

method of conveyance. Assessing the options requires an analysis and weighing of the benefits, the

impacts and the inhibitors.

Step 1 - Extraction zone

The first task is to identify potential water extraction sites. Canada has thousands of lakes including

some of the largest in the world. It also has a considerable amount of water stored in aquifers and

glaciers. However, rivers are chosen as the preferred extraction source, as a constant, reliable and

renewable flow is required for sustained export.

Therefore, the first step is to identify Canada’s largest rivers by discharge rate. Forty-four major rivers

(classified as those that reach a saltwater outlet) and their larger tributaries have been identified. These

are presented in Appendix B, which shows a map, prepared by Atlas Canada (NRCAN, 1978), illustrating

the magnitude of average flow rates (as represented by the thickness of the red arrow).

Not all of these major rivers are suitable for extraction. Some are already heavily withdrawn by the

surrounding populations, while some are not ideally located or directed. To narrow down the selection

to the most appropriate rivers, the following extraction criteria were considered:

How significant is the mean discharge? How large is the drainage basin? An average flow rate of

approximately 500 MCS was set as a minimum threshold discharge.

What are the competing uses? Is the river protected? Rivers that are heavily used for irrigation,

industry, municipal water supply, fisheries or hydropower may be seen as inappropriate. This is

especially true if an upstream diversion/extraction would compromise available flow for other

downstream users.

Where does the river flow? Rivers that flow into the United States are inappropriate due to

transboundary water issues.

Where can the discharge be extracted? Is there available land with a suitable topography for a

reservoir? Is the land a protected area?

From the above considerations, the most significant trade-offs are between the available flow

(the area of the drainage basin) and the conveyance distance (remoteness).

For a northward

flowing river, available flow is greater further north, but the conveyance distance is also


Step 2 - Consumption Zone

The next step is to identify the potential importers. These are places with water scarcity or impending

water scarcity, where the local supply of freshwater may not be sufficient to satisfy demands.

Although there are areas in Canada experiencing a degree of water scarcity, for example the irrigation

intensive areas of the Prairie Provinces and in some of the more densely populated regions of the east,

only international destinations were considered here.

Southern United-States

For the purposes of this report, it is important to properly evaluate where in the United-States there is

the greatest likelihood for water importation. These are locations of stressed or depleted water

reserves, and arid or semi-arid areas with low precipitation and surface water. The areas must also have

high water demands, from highly irrigated agricultural areas, or near large population centers. Future

predictions are also important. They include changes in population, demand, and the effects of climate


It is important to note that, at this time, no official declaration or intention to buy Canadian water has

been expressed by any State government. For example, a 2012 report by the Texas Water Development

board presents the sobering realities of the potential water crisis in Texas (Texas, 2012). It urges

conservation and water management strategies, and suggests the use of technologies such as

desalination, water reuse, and improved storage. It does not mention importing water as a viable or

beneficial option.

However, as described in the introduction, there are numerous similar States set to face a potentially

severe water crisis. Thus, when the impacts of major droughts become more severe, pressure to import

Canadian water may begin to increase. Currently, water stressed states are aware of their predicament,

and the obvious best course of action has been to promote water efficiency and conservation, and to

implement some small/local technologies. Yet, if that does not prove to be sufficient in the coming

decades, then some regions may consider implementing much more drastic technologies in times of

desperation, of which IBWT is one.

Great-Lakes Supplementation

A possible application of IBWT is to supplement the Great Lakes reservoir. This would involve properly

metering additional discharge in order to sell withdrawal credits to users. The users will benefit from the

supplemented lakes by satisfying both their current water supply and their anticipated increases in

consumption. Of course this would have numerous social, legal and practical ramifications.


A similar, but less elaborate study could be conducted for the major countries that may receive

Canadian water through oceanic tanker-shipments. Across the Pacific Ocean to the west there are water

stressed nations of Asia, and to the east across the Atlantic, there is Europe and the Middle East.

Step 3 - Conveyance Method

The conveyance method describes how the extraction and consumption zones can be linked. Three

different transfer methods are considered: export by pressurised pipeline, engineered river works, and

oceanic tanker-ship containers.

Pipeline transfers

The main consideration for pipeline transfers is the energy requirement to transport the water, both to

provide the head (potential energy) to raise it in elevation and to overcome the friction losses in the

pipes. The optimal path is determined by minimizing total pipe length (to minimize friction losses) and

minimizing the elevation differences, due to the topography of the land, between the extraction zone

and the consumption zone. As emphasized earlier, water is very heavy and moving it up gradients is very

intense in terms of energy requirements and infrastructure needed.

Engineered river works

Engineered river works (in this context) can be defined as interventions that change the flow direction of

a river. A river, whose flow direction is reversed, would take advantage of the naturally present channel

(Pierre Gingras, 2010). Other river works can divert water from one river-basin to another, as in the

Rupert River case study. Typical engineering works include damming, controlled flooding and

channelization. They can employ head inducing pumping stations (these are essentially hydroelectricity

turbines operating in reverse), tunnels, short canals, excavations, landscape changes, or river bed

alterations. Topography is also a key factor; overcoming an upward gradient is an engineering challenge,

as is containing a floodplain in unfavourable natural terrain. In sections where the elevation change is

downhill, there may be hydro-electricity harnessing potential. Electricity generated could offset the

energy requirements of the uphill segments.

Oceanic tanker-ship transfer

For tanker-ship transfer the main criterion is total travel distance, thus the main deterrent will be energy

requirements and the potential for enormous greenhouse gas emissions.

Step 4 - Refining the options

The next step is to refine the chosen proposals. A location and layout for extraction is suggested, in

addition to the arrangement of the required hydraulic structures. A time-dependent withdrawal rate is

suggested; it is given considering the balance between the fraction that must be allocated to the

environment and the profitability of the project. For river data (monthly discharge and stage),

Environment Canada’s HYDAT data base was used.

Step 5 - Evaluation of Impacts, Inhibitors and Benefits

The final step is to conduct a systematic evaluation and comparison of the proposals. To do this, both

the negative (or inhibiting) aspects of each proposal and the positive (or supportive aspects) are

qualitatively scored. The negative aspects include (aspect 1) the expected environmental impacts and

(aspect 2) the socio/economic impacts. The positive aspects include (aspect 3) the expected gains.

Each of these three aspects is sub-divided into several categories. Each of these categories will be

allocated an initial weighting factor in terms of absolute importance. The numerical weighting factor

assigns the importance and significance of each category relative to the others. For example, it is

assumed that the importance for the overall evaluation of the category ‘Change of river regime and

disruption of river function’ is much higher than that of ‘Water quality issues’. Therefore to account for

this difference, a higher weight, judged at a value of 4, is allocated to the former, and a lower weight of

0.6 is allocated to the latter.

Next, each proposal will be evaluated and given ratings for each category. This will be done on a scale of

0 to 10 for the two negative aspects. As a general rule, a value of 0 is negligible or insignificant, a 4 is a

serious but manageable consideration, a 7 is very significant and unjustifiable, and a 10 has potentially

disastrous or long lasting effects. For the positive aspects, the same 0 to 10 scale is used, with a 0 given

where no perceived benefit is expected, while a 10 is given where substantial benefits are expected. The

rating for each proposal is then multiplied by the weighting factor to get a point score for the given

category. Points of each category are subsequently summed up to get an overall score for each of the

three aspects. These numerical scores are then used to compare the proposals and to provide a

rudimentary evaluation of the feasibility of each proposal.

(Aspect 1) expected environmental impacts

The environmental impacts of these projects will be described and rated in eight categories (table 2,

categories 1 to 8). This analysis is done in a qualitative manner, using the information provided by the

hydraulic analysis, land cover maps, comparisons to the applicable case studies described, and by the

typical observed and documented effects of each modification element or hydraulic structure of the


Table 2 Categories for expected environmental impacts (negative)




# Category name



Change of river 1 regime and disruption of river function


This is a general evaluation of the impacts that can be expected on the function of the supply river. This is done considering the various hydraulic structures and river engineered works. For example, dams and diversions will result in changes to geomorphologic activity (sediment transport, erosion/deposition, floodplain morphology changes). Also, induced floodplain and reservoirs may cause issues with bed degradation and erosion (Hey, 1996).



Exactly how much of a river’s flow should be allocated to the natural environment, and how much could be extracted out of the basin for human use? As previously described, this can only be effectively answered with site specific data of the river’s characteristics, habitats/sensitive species, and interacting natural systems. Of special interest would be the river’s estuarine environment and wetlands (Linton, 2002). For this consideration, a project that uses a lesser proportion of the discharge can be considered more favourable to one that uses more, especially if they exist within similar natural environments.

of minimum


2 flow allocation




flow reduction

Reduction and


An important distinction should be made between flow allocation in terms of the average discharge, and of the peak flood flow. Average discharge is important for the sustained maintenance of ecosystems of the habitat, while flooding events and disturbances are important for cyclic freshening of the riparian zone, for colonization of species, and for carbon and nutrient cycling (Petts & Calow, 1996). Therefore, an important consideration is to evaluate how the project may affect peak flows, flooding events, and peak stage levels.

3 changes to

riparian flooding



Land disturbances


We can assess the decrease in landscape quality, both permanent and temporary, with the addition of hydraulic structures, inundated area, infrastructure and the laying pipelines. This can reduce the available land for wildlife, farming and forests (Linton, 2002). Materials needed for the fill material in dams, dikes and weirs will cause impacts

4 and reduction in landscape quality






Category name




Impacts on


Given the above four categories we can begin to assess the severity of the impacts on habitats. Petts & Calow (1996) has described this saying that the “Interactions between flow and biota are complex and highly sensitive to river regulation and abstraction.” Therefore, the major phenomena that are influenced by flow and flooding events include impacts on sensitive environmental domains for the habitat and spawning of aquatic species communities. It has been observed that organisms are sensitive to velocities, depths, substrate, water temperatures, and quality/constitution of flowing water (Petts & Calow, 1996).

habitat and







Introduction of


Many sources have identified the inherent risk of moving water over long distances: introducing invasive species (fish, invertebrates, plants, parasites, algae, bacteria, and


non-native and


viruses) into environments without natural predators (Linton, 2002; Wood, 2008). Although this risk can be reduced or eliminated with treatment at the source, it still should be considered.

invasive species


Changing the boundaries of a water body, such as with flooding or flow reductions can affect water quality. One especially problematic example is the release of soil deposited mercury due to engineered inundations. Also,


water quality



reservoirs affect water temperatures in rivers (Linton, 2002). In general, the potential impacts of temporary activity during the construction phase, and the permanent operation of turbines, pumps and other machinery that can leak contaminants such as hydrocarbons are considered.


The potential extent of greenhouse gas emissions by the operation of machinery to supply power for pumps, turbines, tankers is evaluated. This includes the emissions


greenhouse gas



(CO 2 and methane) from decaying vegetation due to creation of reservoirs. In addition, clearing of forests for reservoirs or pipeline paths are associated with an important loss of carbon sinks.

(Aspect 2) socio/economic impacts

Next are the social and economic elements. This includes the social impacts, political obstacles, public

acceptance and qualitative rating of costs, both capital and operational (see table 3, categories 9 to 12).

Table 3 Categories for socio/economic inhibitors (negative)




Description and source of information


This evaluates the cost to set up the project: construction of hydraulic structures, pipelines, machinery, power supply


Capital costs


infrastructure, shipping fleet, other infrastructure, and dredging work. Also important are the costs associated with environmental impact management and mitigation.