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North American Water and Power Alliance

North American Water and Power Alliance

Numerous schemes were suggested in the 1960s to accomplish large-scale water transfers between major basins in North America, and one of the best known is the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA). The plan was devised by the Ralph M. Parson Company of Los Angeles "to divert 36 trillion gallons of water (per year) from the Yukon River in Alaska (through the Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes) southward to 33 states, seven Canadian provinces, and northern Mexico."

The proposed NAWAPA system would bring water in immense quantities from western Canada and Alaska through the plains and desert states all the way down to the Rio Grande watershed and into the Northern Sonora and Chihuahua provinces of Mexico. The Rocky Mountain Trench, Peace River, Great Slave Lake, Lesser Slave Lake, North Saskatchewan River, Columbia River, Lake Winnipeg, Hudson River , James Bay, and numerous tributaries are part of the proposed NAWAPA feeder system designed to channel water from Canada to Mexico.

A second feeder system in the plan would channel large quantities of water into the western portion of Lake Superior. This influx of water would wash the pollutants dumped into the Great Lakes out into the Atlantic Ocean. It would also boost the capacity of the area for generating hydroelectricity.

The NAWAPA plan was also designed to develop hydroelectric plants within northern Quebec and Ontario which would produce power that would be diverted to the United States. The James Bay hydropower project in Quebec was completed in the early 1970s. It flooded an area 4,250 mi2 (11,000 km2), and 90% of its power goes directly into the Northeastern United States and Ohio. The James Bay II Project in Ontario will eventually incorporate over 80 dams , divert three major rivers, and flood traditional Cree land. The majority of its hydroelectric output will also go to the United States.

Proponents of inter-basin transfers tend to focus on the impending water shortages in the western and southwestern United States. In the Great Plains, the Ogallala Aquifer is rapidly being depleted. The Black Mesa water table is almost exhausted, due to the excessive quantities of water used in mining operations, and California has been consistently unable to meet the needs of both its industries and its population. Supporters of NAWAPA have long argued that this plan is the only way the nation can solve these problems. On February 22, 1965, Newsweek hailed the NAWAPA plan as "the greatest, the most colossal, stupendous, super-splendificent public works project in history."

NAWAPA was described as "a monstrous concepta diabolical thesis" by a former chairperson of the International Joint Commission . Much of the opposition to the plan in the 1960s was nationalist rather than environmental in character: The plans were viewed as an attempt to appropriate Canadian resources. Today, many people are asking whether it is necessary or even right to hydrologically re-engineer the ecosystems of North America in order to meet the water needs of the United States. Environmentalists point out that entire ecosystems in many western states have already been disrupted by various water projects. They argue that it is time to investigate other methods, such as conservation , which would bring water consumption to levels sustainable by the watersheds of the plains and deserts.

[Debra Glidden ]



Higgins, J. "Hydro-Quebec and Native People." Cultural Survival Quarterly 11 (1987).

Reisner, M. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Viking Press, 1986.

Royal Society of Canada. Water Resources of Canada. Ottawa: Royal Society of Canada, 1968.

Welsh, F. How to Create a Water Crisis. Boulder: Johnson Publishing, 1985.


Canadian Council of Resource Ministers. Water Diversion Proposals of North America. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Resource Ministers, 1968.

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