San Francisco, Calif. – S2C Global Systems, based in San Antonio, Texas, has announced plans to export 12 billion gallons of water per year from the Blue Lake Reservoir in Sitka, Alaska, to a new, yet-to-be-built water hub on the west coast of India.
The first shipment to the new hub in India — whose location remains undisclosed for security reasons — is at least 18 months away, Rod Bartlett, president and CEO of S2C Global, told India-West Oct. 15.
The water hub will be built in the next six months, while custom-built water-transport tankers, costing about $75 million, will be built over the next 18 months. Existing oil tankers cannot be used because of potential contamination from leftover oil residues, he explained.
The water will be packaged at the hub, and then distributed in India as well as several GCC – Gulf Cooperation Council – countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.
S2C has already partnered with an unnamed distributor in India, said Bartlett. The Indian government may also subsidize the water for rural consumers, allowing them to pay at water kiosks with a pre-paid debit card.
Bartlett contends he can deliver a finished product — in five-gallon bottles or in 20-foot containers with bladders — for about $2 per five gallons.
True Alaska Bottling, based in Sitka, will deliver the freshwater supply to S2C, under a bulk water contract from the city of Sitka, which built a dedicated pipeline from the Blue Lake Reservoir to nearby Silver Bay in 2006 to transport the water overseas.
“The amount of water on the planet hasn’t changed, it’s just not in the right place,” said Bartlett, asserting that half the world’s population currently faces water scarcity. “You can’t move the people. But you can move the water,” he said.
“We’ve got urbanization (in India) happening at a phenomenal rate, coupled with global warming and a finite resource,” he told India-West, adding that the rapidly-shrinking Himalayan glaciers are currently one of India’s primary sources for drinking water.
“The only thing that’s going to stop India from growing at a phenomenal rate is water,” asserted Bartlett. “You need water for manufacturing, water for agriculture, water to do just about anything.”
But Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Oakland, Calif.-based Pacific Institute, was skeptical about S2C’s plans. “This idea is a pipe dream,” he told India-West in an e-mail.
“Doing a simple back of the envelope calculation suggests that the transportation and processing costs alone are prohibitively expensive,” asserted Gleick, who co-authors an annual report assessing the world’s freshwater supplies and has written the book, “Bottled and Sold,” investigating the current obsession with bottled water.
S2C’s price of $2 per five gallons – 40 cents per gallon - is also prohibitively high, said Gleick. He favored desalination — removing salt from ocean water — which can be done far more cheaply.
“A modern desalination plant, that can be built anywhere on a coast that a tanker could unload, can desalinate seawater to superb drinking water quality at a price — conservatively - of $2 per cubic meter,” said Gleick. “A single cubic meter of water contains 264.2 gallons, thus, at $2 per cubic meter, desalination costs $0.008 per gallon.” Nearly 40 percent of India’s urban population lacks access to safe and clean drinking water, noted a recent United Nations Development Programme report. More than 65,000 Indian villages have no water resources, according to the report.
At present rates of consumption, India is expected to exhaust all its freshwater supplies by 2050. The scarcity of water will lead to chronic shortages in food and other agricultural products, as farmers currently use 80 percent of available water.
By the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face chronic water shortages.
India has, however, achieved the Millennium Development Goal for drinking water by providing 84 percent of its rural population with access to improved sources of water, Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi told reporters in New Delhi in April.
But the country is facing a tremendous challenge in providing drinking water, especially to rural areas, as most water sources are ground water based and have been overexploited for agriculture and industry, he said. Much of India’s groundwater supply has also been contaminated by sewage, he added.
In a session entitled “The Supply Side of Water,” Oct. 13 at the annual “GoingGreen Silicon Valley” conference in San Francisco, Calif., four panelists discussed novel methods for reusing and treating existing water supplies. Moderator Laura Shenkar, founder and principal of the Artemis Group, noted the lack of innovation in water treatment technologies, terming it the “the red-headed step child of green technology.”
Ninety percent of contaminated water can be treated and re-used, asserted Fatemeh Shirazi, president of Microvi Biotech. The company’s micro-pollutant treatment process can remove petroleum contaminants — such as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), tert-butyl alcohol (TBA), and benzene, among other harmful impurities — from water.
The panel also discussed desalination, rainwater harvesting, and a novel reverse osmosis membrane treatment, which can purify seawater by applying high pressure to a membrane through which the water is pushed.
Scott Jackson, managing partner of the Telesto Consulting Group, said that seawater reclamation was coming into its own, but noted the lack of innovation in the field.
While new markets for water are emerging everywhere, India presents an enormous opportunity for innovation, said Jackson.
Amol Deshpande – a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers who focuses on opportunities in green technology, including water - noted that China was far ahead of the curve in solving its own impending water crisis. The country has planned to build 2,500 wastewater treatment facilities, with a potential capacity to treat one million cubic meters per day.
“China’s (water) infrastructure is developing in a way that could soon lead the U.S.,” he said.
In an interview with India-West after the panel discussion, Deshpande said India was “far behind” China in developing new supplies of water. But he noted the prospects for new technologies, especially desalination in coastal areas.
The low-cost technology involved in desalination could deliver water for about 50 cents per cubic meter, and requires relatively small amounts of capital to build and low energy to run, said Deshpande.
A drawback to desalination is the brine sludge that forms during the treatment process, which is typically dumped back into the ocean, potentially affecting the local ecosystem, said Shenkar at the Oct. 13 panel.
Micro-nutrient treatment, such as the process designed by Microvi, could also be employed in India at little cost, for removal of dangerous nitrates and perchlorates from agriculture along with pharmaceutical residues, said Deshpande, adding that such treatment must be done at the centralized facilities to minimize costs.
Asked if India was indeed facing a water crisis, Deshpande said, “There’s no need to be pessimistic.”
“If India’s economic growth continues at its present rate, there’s no doubt the country will need investments in water. But there’s lots of potential there for investment and growth,” he said.