On Feb. 26 the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies held an event on international water security titled, "Water: The Essential Link to Sustainable Development." Attending the event was Michael Kirsch, the primary author of the 2012 NAWAPA XXI report. That NAWAPA XXI report, outlining the necessity, process, and benefits of constructing a nuclear-powered North American Water and Power Alliance for the 21st century, was recently superseded by the comprehensive NAWAPA XXI: Gateway to the Fusion Economy.
The SAIS presentation dealt with the accessibility of water as a global challenge and one that will become increasingly difficult in the coming decades. According to Marc Robert, chief operating officer at Water Asset Management, by 2030 the global demand for water will increase by 40% over what it is today. While desalination was discussed as a positive potential, the presenters labeled it as too costly an investment.
The southwest, according to Robert, needs the equivalent of another Colorado River in order to sustain water and food needs. The Colorado is currently the water source for 15% of the nation's crops. During the question and answer period, Michael Kirsch raised the prospects of building NAWAPA XXI. He cited a map used by Benjamin Zaitchik, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, forecasting that the amount of precipitation in the northern latitudes will continue to increase, while the drought conditions in the south will worsen in the coming decades.
Kirsch pointed out that this fact is another reason to begin the construction of NAWAPA XXI immediately. The larger rivers in Alaska, whose flow would be modified by a system of dams, pumps, and canals, could provide more than enough water for the arid southwest. The western Alaskan rivers, the Susitna, Copper, Tanana, Yukon, Taku, Stikine, Nass, and Skeena each average 40 million acre feet per year (MAFY) or more in annual freshwater runoff. By capturing only 5% of that runoff, the United States could benefit from the equivalent of another 3 Colorado Rivers. Additionally, Kirsch pointed to the environmental challenges of an abundance of water resources in the north. Because of the lack of direct, year-round sunlight in the those latitudes, the water is less productive. It is less able to support photosynthesis in converting water into plant life. Kirsch noted that water used in southern latitudes — like California, where 1/3 of US produce is grown — is 5.5 times more productive.
Although the response from the panel was mixed, the issue of a North American alliance between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, to manage our continent's water resources, became thematic in the following questions and answers.