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Pondering our water blessings

Posted: May 5, 2012 - 11:13pm

Spurred by the work of the AJ Mine Advisory Committee, the City and Borough of Juneau has been investigating Juneau’s water supply and infrastructure needs. Recently, City Engineer Rorie Watt gave the Chamber of Commerce a preliminary review of water supply alternatives. In an April 30 Juneau Empire article, “City engineer praises Juneau’s water,” Watt said Juneau’s water is abundant and “the best of the best in terms of quality.” He also tied in the need for infrastructure planning for the future, which then led back to the possibility of opening the AJ Mine. He is not alone in doing this. After all, it is the thinking about the possibility of opening the mine that got us started in investigating our future water needs and supply. It’s pretty understandable to see how good news about our water situation can circle back around to good news regarding the AJ Mine.

But I need to throw some water (pun intended) on this connection. I would like to remind pro-mine advocates it was determined, regardless of whether the AJ Mine opens, the city needed to be planning for our future water needs. As the news comes in about the abundance and quality of our water, let’s remember that word “regardless” and treat the AJ Mine decision as a separate process. While addressing our public water supply was a priority concern of the committee, it was not the only one. There are 13 other recommendations advanced by the AJ Mine Advisory Committee. And most importantly, because of its congested downtown location, there is still a significant divide in the community regarding the AJ Mine. Many residents remain skeptical a mine could be designed and operated without putting community assets like tourism at risk. Let’s keep in mind opening up the AJ Mine is not the same as supporting a mine in the hinterlands.

But getting back to the good news about our water, we should be thinking about our high quality drinking water as the new oil. As I previously mentioned in a column, by 2040 the United Nations estimates demand for freshwater will outstrip supply by more than 30 percent as global water consumption is doubling every 20 years. Looking at the 4 billion, low-income consumers in the world, the World Bank estimates the total market for drinking water in countries throughout Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America is $20 billion. Already, oil tankers are being re-lined to carry water to these water challenged areas. Could some of Juneau’s plentiful, high quality water be used for these global markets?

According to Watt, we’re already pumping 20 percent of our summer water supply to cruise ships. How much more would they want? Ten or 20 years from now, what would the cruise ships pay for our water? Perhaps this would be a better outlet for our water than the AJ Mine? The late Gov. Wally Hickel once dreamed of a water pipeline to California. While some see plentiful water options and jump to the AJ Mine, I see a whole new industry for Juneau — water export. Maybe it’s time to think outside the mine.

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.

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