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Where Ganga flows, water from Alaska

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By SAMBIT SAHA
  • Published 23.08.10
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Calcutta, Aug. 22: India, which celebrates rivers in its anthem, will get water shipped in tankers all the way from Alaska much like it gets oil from West Asia.

S2C Global Systems, an American company, plans to start shipping to India within six to eight months in what is said to be the world’s first bulk export of water by tankers.

Ships like Suezmax or food-grade tankers will ferry fresh water across the Pacific — the shortest possible route — to a port south of Mumbai to feed India’s bottling plants, industry and municipalities. The journey could take about 30 days.

“S2C Global has an exciting future in India and the region,” Rod Bartlett, president of S2C Global Systems, US, said.

India Microscope, a Citigroup research report, has cited a study by the Water Resources Group that says India will be able to meet only half of its water requirement from indigenous sources by 2030. The report does not specify when the country, which is now water-surplus, will turn deficient.

The Yamuna, one of the rivers mentioned in the anthem, was in spate today but many urban centres in India face water shortage — a problem imports can help mitigate.

“After recently spending time in India meeting port authorities and potential distributors, our vision to distribute water globally became real. We fully expect the India hub to fulfil our minimum expectations of half a billion gallons sold annually,” Bartlett said.

S2C is also planning to redistribute water from India to West Asia. Based in Texas, the company owns 50 per cent in Alaska Resource Management, which has the right to buy water for bulk export from Blue Lake under the administration of the city and borough of Sitka in Alaska.

Another company, Aleut Corp, based at Anchorage in Alaska, is also eyeing export of water to India and China. It plans to source the water from Adak Island.

Bartlett, also the managing partner of Alaska Resource Management, said the water would cost 7 to 10 cents a gallon (81 paise to Rs 1.16 a litre) when it lands in India, depending on fuel cost and government levy.

The company will buy water at 0.01 cent a gallon or 11 paise a litre from Alaska, said Garry White, executive director of the Sitka Economic Development Association.

While there has been quite a debate in Alaska and Canada whether water should be exported in bulk for commercial purposes, White supported the move.

“I support the exporting of water to anyone that needs it. We have an abundant source of water that is renewable,” he said, adding that Sitka would earn $29 million a year.

But experts wonder if such long-distance bulk water export is possible, given the cost involved. J.D. McNiven, professor emeritus, Dalhousie University, at Halifax in Canada, told The Telegraph that after the long voyage, the water would have to be purified. The cost will be high.

A bottle of packaged drinking water now retails around Rs 14 a litre in India. However, the economics will be completely different if India turns water-deficient.

The Water Resources Group report estimates that demand will rise to 1,500 billion cubic metres — 1 cubic metre equals 1,000 litres — from 740 billion cubic metres now.

S2C said it would protect the water using an “Ozonating” system in the ships. White said the city of Sitka does not use the water straight from Blue Lake either. Water is distributed after purification.