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Map of North America showing fresh water run-off. Note that 20% of the run-off flows into Hudson-James Bay where less than 1% of the population live.
Possible scenario of the GRAND Canal scheme, showing the initial water capture and diversion into Lake Huron. Water would be pumped south from the newly-formed James Lake into the Harricana River, crossing into the Great Lakes watershed near Amos, into Lake Timiskaming and the Ottawa River, crossing near Mattawa into Lake Nipissing and the French River to Lake Huron.

The Great Recycling and Northern Development (GRAND) Canal of North America or GCNA is a water management proposal designed by Newfoundland engineer Thomas Kierans to alleviate North American freshwater shortage problems (see Water politics). The GCNA, which relies upon water management technologies used in the Zuider Zee and California Aqueduct, has been promoted by Kierans since 1959.

This plan arose as water quality issues threatened the Great Lakes and other vital areas in Canada and the United States [1]. Kierans proposes that to avoid a water crisis from future droughts in Canada and the United States, in addition to water conservation, acceptable new fresh water sources must be found.

The premise of the GCNA is that fresh water run-off from natural precipitation be collected in James Bay by means of a series of outflow-only, sea level dikes-constructed across the northern end of James Bay. This would capture the fresh water before it mixes with the salty water of Hudson Bay. In the second phase of the GRAND Canal proposal a percentage of the captured fresh water run-off would be transferred by a series of canals and pumping stations south to the Great Lakes where it would be available to be transferred to water deficit areas of Canada and the United States. Precipitation run-off from the U.S. and Canada averages about 160,000 m3 per second, or the flow of 28 Niagara Rivers. Sixty percent occurs in Canada, which has only 10% of both nations’ total population.

Contents

Background

In 1959, Canada officially claimed that U.S. expansion of a Chicago diversion from Lake Michigan would harm downstream Canadian areas in the Great Lakes Basin.

The Canadian government further stated that exhaustive studies had indicated no additional sources of freshwater were available in Canada to replace the waters that would be removed from the Great Lakes by the proposed diversion. Kierans refuted the accuracy of the 1959 Canadian government's position and asserted that the GRAND Canal could provide additional fresh water to the Great Lakes.

Waters from the Ogoki River and Longlac are now being diverted into the Great Lakes at a rate equivalent to that taken by the U.S. at the Chicago diversion.[2]

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Similar projects

The Netherlands has recycled run-off precipitation since 1928 from a sea level, outflow-only, multi-use, freshwater dyke-enclosure in the former Zuider Zee. For 50 years, an expanding California Aqueduct with a 1200 m pump-lift, has recycled up to 115 m3/sec of northern river run-off from upstream of the sea in San Francisco Bay over 700 km southward in the San Joaquin River valley. This recycled fresh water has been used to create productive new farm and urban areas in former arid land. New recycled run-off proposals are now being considered throughout the world. [3]

Another North America-wide proposal is the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) proposal, which would divert waters from rivers draining into the Pacific Ocean.

Proposal

Map of North America showing distribution of newly captured and recycled fresh water according to the proposed GRAND Canal water management proposal

In his GCNA proposal, Kierans asserted that experience in the Netherlands demonstrates that a large new freshwater source can be created in Canada’s James Bay by collecting run-off from many adjacent river basins in a sea level, outflow-only dyke-enclosure. Moreover, he claims that California’s Aqueduct proves that run-off to James Bay can be beneficially recycled long distances and over high elevations via the GRAND Canal. The GCNA would stabilize water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and increase water quality. It would also deliver, via the Great Lakes, new fresh water from the James Bay dyke-enclosure to many other deficit areas in Canada and the United States. The project was estimated in 1994 to cost CA$100 billion to build and a further CA$1 billion annually to operate, involving a string of nuclear reactors and hydroelectric dams to pump water uphill and into other waterbasins.

Depending on the final location of the James Bay dike, the project could divert the entire outflow of the La Grande, Eastmain, Rupert, Broadback, Nottaway, Harricana, Moose, Albany, Kapiskau, Attawapiskat and Ekawan rivers. The proposal would divert about 17% of the freshwater in Ontario and Québec[4].

Benefits / Costs

Kierans argues that recycling run-off from a dike-enclosure in Canada’s James Bay is not harmful and can bring both nations many useful benefits including:

  1. More fresh water for Canada and the U.S. (see water export);
  2. Improved fisheries and shipping in Hudson Bay due to recycled run-off’s increase in the Bay’s now harmful low salinity;[5]
  3. Improved Great Lakes water quality due to the increased flows;
  4. Lower electricity-user cost by integrating water transfer energy needs with peak power demand
  5. Enhanced flood controls [6]; and
  6. Improved forest fire protection for both nations [7]
  7. The construction and operation of the GCNA would provide economic stimulus to create employment and avoid recession. This would be similar to the economic stimulus that the Tennessee Valley Authority development and other public works had in the 1930s to start the recovery from the Great Depression

According to Kierans, project organization to recycle run-off from James Bay Basin could be like that for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Capital costs for about 160 million users will exceed $100 billion. But, he claims, “before construction is completed, the total value of social, ecologic and economic benefits in Canada and the U.S. will surpass the project’s costs.”

Developments

The GRAND Canal scheme attracted the attention of former Québec premier Robert Bourassa and former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney. By 1985, Bourassa and several major engineering companies endorsed detailed GRAND Canal concept studies. [8]

Photograph of Thomas Kierans and Robert Bourassa
"To Mr. Kierans, A Canadian with a an extraordinary vision for the good of his country, With all my gratitude Robert Bourassa April 16, 1985."


[9] In addition, some components of the GRAND Canal project have been completed, including the Rafferty-Alameda Dams in Saskatchewan and the James Bay Project in Québec.

Comparison of the GRAND Canal scheme (left), and the NAWAPA scheme (right)

On the right contrasting North American drought relief proposals are shown. A conventional diversion concept known as the NAWAPA Plan is depicted on the righthand map. NAWAPA involves halting the flow of Canada’s major west coast rivers and diverting their flow to the southwestern U.S., Canadian Prairies and Great Lakes. Flooding in mountain valleys and downstream flow disruption in existing rivers are apparent. The lefthand map illustrates the GRAND Canal and shows that the recycling of fresh water run-off from James Bay does not involve such major flooding or flow reduction. Canada’s fresh water will be substantially increased.

Kierans has defended his proposal, saying “…some misinformed environmentalists and news media refuse to accept the proven Netherlands and California recycled run-off projects. [10] Further, they refuse to acknowledge the fundamental differences between NAWAPA's (North American Water and Power Alliance) harmful 'headwater diversion' and the environmentally friendly 'recycled run-off' of the GRAND Canal (see Cadillac Desert). Unfortunately, their political influence continues to block Canadian government support for the urgently needed detailed studies of recycled run-off from James Bay. Until the Canadian Government supports such studies, drought and freshwater quality in Canada and the U.S. will continue to worsen”

Environmental concerns

The GRAND Canal scheme would alter the breeding grounds of the critically endangered Eskimo curlew.

Some potential environmental impacts of this proposal include:

  1. Earlier ice formation, and later ice breakup in James Bay;
  2. Diminished ecological productivity, possibly as far away as the Labrador Sea;
  3. Fewer nutrients being deposited into Hudson Bay during spring melts;
  4. Removal of James Bay's dampening effect on tidal and wind disturbances; and
  5. Adversely affect migratory bird populations [11]

The reduced freshwater flow into Hudson Bay will alter the salinity and stratification of the bay, impacting primary production in Hudson Bay, along the Labrador coast, and as far away as the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the Scotian Shelf, and Georges Bank, all important fishing grounds.

If the James Bay dike is built, "[v]irtually all marine organisms would be destroyed [in the newly-formed lake]".[12] Freshwater species would move in, but northern reservoirs tend to fail to produce viable fisheries. The inter-basin connections would be ideal vectors for invasive species to invade new waters.

The construction of a dike across James Bay would negatively impact many mammal species, including ringed and bearded seals, walruses, and bowhead whales, as well as vulnerable populations of polar bears and beluga whales. The impacts would also affect many species of migratory bird, including lesser snow geese, Canada geese, black scoters, brants, American black ducks, northern pintails, mallards, American wigeons, Green-winged teals, greater scaups, common eiders, red knots, dunlins, black-bellied, American goldens, and semipalmated plovers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, sanderlings, many species of sandpipers, whimbrels, and marbled godwits, as well as the critically endangered Eskimo curlew.[11]

Social concerns

The project is expected to cost CA$100 billion to implement, and a further CA$1 billion a year to operate. Most of the water diverted would be exported to the US.

In addition, the shoreline communities of Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moosonee, Moose Factory (Ontario), Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji and Chisasibi (Québec) would be forced to relocate.

Conspiracy Theory

In the 1990s, Canadian conspiracy theorists believed the "GRAND Canal" was part of a conspiracy to end Canadian sovereignty and force it into a union with the USA and Mexico.[13] Conspiracy theorists believed forces interested in North American union would agitate for a Quebec separation, which would then touch off a Canadian civil war and plunge the Canadian economy into a depression. Impoverished Canadians would then look to the canal project and North American union to revitalize the Canadian economy.[14] Much of the scenario was lifted from Lansing Lamont's 1994 book Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America.[15]

Allegedly masterminding this conspiracy was Simon Reisman,[16] ostensibly a Freemason.[17]

References

External links


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