An undersea pipeline to carry freshwater from Alaska to California is an idea whose time may be coming--but it isn't likely to arrive until the 35th Century, if then.
Proposed by Alaska's flamboyant Gov. Walter J. Hickel and snapped up (hook, line and sinker) by Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, the plan had its first big "day in court" Wednesday. Our verdict is that it should also be the last.
A workshop in Los Angeles, sponsored by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), provided the forum. A cursory look for OTA by Fluor Daniel Corp., an engineering firm, set the price tag for the 2,000-mile pipeline at $150 billion, not counting operating costs. OTA itself noted that the costs of such massive projects almost always go up and seldom down.
There was some talk at the workshop of driving a stake in the project's heart before government spent more money chasing the pipe dream. But an ordinary pencil held by an ordinary householder who drafts family budgets is the only stake needed to do it in.
Nobody seemed to know for certain what customers would pay for the Alaskan water when it came out of their taps, but one estimate making the rounds was $4,000 an acre-foot--enough water to meet the needs of only about five people for a year.
The Metropolitan Water District is selling the same acre-foot to millions of Southern Californians this year for $260. That would make the Alaskan water nearly 16 times as expensive--and it's not even bottled. It doesn't take a bargain hunter to figure out that what's being considered is no "best buy."
When the Met takes delivery of water it has bought from farmers (who sold it rather than use it for irrigation), an acre-foot will cost about $300. Alaskan water would cost 13 times that. Even water produced by a desalination plant (built at $2 billion) would cost half of any that would flow south from Alaska.
There are other arguments against the pipeline, such as possible damage the project would do to Alaskan fisheries. But in this case, money talks. It's saying, "No, thanks."