- Posted February 8, 2012 by
Tom Kierans: Visionary/Engineer and Man with a Plan to Save the Ogallala Aquifer about to enter 100th Year
The recent decision announced in headlines across North America to stop the construction of the Keystone Pipeline from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to Texas shows that the Obama Administration is sensitive (and rightly so) to the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to American agriculture. But what is not mentioned in the headlines is that the Ogallala Aquifer is subject to a threat much more serious and potentially disastrous than a Keystone Pipeline oil spill: the Ogallala Aquifer is going dry! Since the mid-fifties the American southwest bread basket agricultural region has depended on the Ogallala Aquifer for irrigation. Now, because of over-withdrawal, this aquifer in going dry and there are credible predictions that within thirty years it will not be able to support irrigation. Without the Ogallala Aquifer for irrigation the most important agricultural region of America will become non-productive. This will be a horrendous blow to US and therefore world food production. In the meantime, my father, Thomas Kierans, a Canadian visionary/engineer who for the last 53 years has promoted a water management proposal that would (amongst many other benefits) save the Ogallala and southwest US agriculture is patiently waiting in his Newfoundland home for his plan to get the attention and study that it plainly deserves. In my iReport to CNN I hope to explain what his proposal is, why it so important to Canada and the United States, why it has not yet been properly studied by the government of either country and what has to happen in order for it to be built.
My father is amazing. In about two weeks, on February 13th, 2012, he will be celebrating his 99th birthday and entering his hundredth year of living. At this age most people are happy just to be alive, sitting in a rocking chair and clicking the remote at the TV. But my amazing dad is not "most people". Currently, he is living an independent life in his own home in St. John's Newfoundland and actively promoting his engineering projects including his plan to bring Canada/U.S. water management into the twenty-first century.
My father’s proposal is called the GRAND (Great Re-cycling and Northern Development) Canal of North America and he started designing it almost eighty years ago. In the early 1930s he was a student at McGill University in Montreal and spending his summers prospecting for gold in northern Quebec . As he hunted for gold in this wilderness he was awe struck by the super-abundance of fresh water flowing down the many rivers emptying into James Bay . Then in 1933, when he traveled to the west coast to do more prospecting he witnessed in western Canada and the US the devastating effects of the “dust-bowl” drought. Thereafter, he began thinking of ways to bring the plentiful waters of the James Bay watershed to western Canada and the southwest US where they are desperately needed. My father eventually became a mining engineer and father of nine children working for INCO in the nickel mines of Sudbury, Ontario . But he never forgot the engineering conundrum posed by the magnificent super-abundance of James Bay water and dismal droughts of the western Canada and the US. Over the course of many years of research, inquiry and pondering in his engineer’s problem-solving mind he assembled the parts of his proposal.
In 1959 my dad read in the Sudbury Star that the Canadian government had turned down a formal request by the US government to increase the volume of water it was allowed by treaty to withdrawn from the Great Lakes at Chicago. The Canadian government summarily refused the US request for more water on the basis that there were no additional sources of fresh water in Canada to replace the proposed additional withdrawals by the US. The Canadians claimed that the additional withdrawals would harm the downstream localities in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River basin and the then recently completed St Lawrence Seaway . But my father had been to James Bay and he had seen the water. The problem was how get the water to the Great Lakes where in could be used to off-set withdrawals and by that time he had figured a way how to do it.
The assertion of „no more water“ by the Canadian government inspired my father to put his ideas into a specific proposal. The GRAND Canal proposal challenged the claim of „no more water“ and it clearly demonstrated how enormous volumes of fresh water from a newly created fresh water reservoir in James Bay could be added to the Great Lakes using proven technologies (in use for many years in the Netherlands and California ) and without decreasing the amount of fresh water available to Canadians. The plan does not divert rivers from their natural course to the sea. Rather, it traps fresh water in a new reservoir after it has run it's course and re-cycles it for further use. Because both countries have access to the Great Lakes the GRAND Canal will make more fresh water available to Canadians as well as Americans.
The GRAND Canal, which my dad has been promoting since 1959, is a solution to the worsening water shortages and droughts in Canada and the US. These water shortages and droughts occur because of increasing and shifting populations and situations like the drying of the Ogallala. The basic problem is that although there is plenty of fresh water in Canada and the US a large portion of the water does not flow where it is needed most and is eventually lost to the oceans, unused. Twenty percent of the fresh water in North America flows into Hudson Bay/James Bay and is lost to the Arctic Ocean . My father, with his GRAND Canal has found a way to re-cycle and use some of this wasted water. The proposal also provides solutions to other water management problems including flooding in the mid-west and the poor fisheries/short shipping seasons caused by low salinity of Hudson Bay.
In its' first phase the GRAND Canal would trap part of the fresh water run-off that flows into James Bay by means of out-flow only dikes to prevent the water from being lost to Hudson Bay. This will create a new fresh water reservoir in James Bay about the size of Lake Superior . In the second phase a percentage of the captured fresh water run-off would be transferred from the new freshwater reservoir in James Bay by a series of canals and pumping stations south to the Great Lakes . Once in the Great Lakes the new fresh water (with a potential flow of approximately 2.5 times that of Niagara falls) will be available to stabilize water levels in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence water basin and to be transferred by natural and man made canals and pumping stations to water deficit areas of Canada and the United States including the Ogallala Aquifer region. This new water will be used to irrigate the crops and allow the Ogallala Aquifer to replenish and prevent the tragedy of it going dry.
The beauty of the GRAND Canal is that, unlike plans such as NAWAPA which diverts water and create winners and losers, it re-cycles the water that in now lost to the oceans and creates only winners. The Canadian and American farmers wll be able to water thier crops, the Great Lakes/ St Lawrence River cities will have stabilized water levels, the First Nations will have better fishing and transportation in Hudson Bay and the economy will benefit from the jobs created by the construction and operation of the GRAND canal. If you want to find out more about the GRAND Canal and its current status you will find at the end of this email a list of links and attachements. I recommend particularily the video of my father talking about the proposal.
My father has been promoting this plan for 53 years and lately I have been trying to help him as best I can while operating café bars in Prague. Interest in the proposal has waxed and waned according to the drought cycles and water levels in the Great Lakes. The GRAND Canal has been condemned as a sell out of Canadian water by Canadian nationalists such as Maude Barlow . Some environmentalists tremble at the very mention of its name. On the other hand it has been supported by some very great and powerful politicians such as the late Robert Bourassa, Premier of Quebec. Bourassa devoted a chapter in his book “Power from the North” to supporting the GRAND Canal. Former premier of Ontario Bill Davis recently arranged a meeting with Nigel Wright, the Chief of Staff to Canadian Prime Minister Harper to talk about the plan. The plan has been discussed with high level officials in the Obama White House but they don't want to bring up any controversial proposals before the fall election. In general the politicians are interested in the plan because it presents an effective solution to the problem. But they also fear it because it is a political "loose canon" that they fear could lose them an election. Talk about the sharing of Canadian water with Americans, brings to the surface strong nationalist/protectionist instincts in Canadians and polls disclose public sentiment against it.Talk about the GRAND Canal also causes Americans to worry about dependency on foreign sources for essential natural resouces. So the politicians stay away stay away from the GRAND Canal in droves!
One legal change that will have to take place if the GRAND Canal is to get off the ground is the amendment of the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States. The International Joint Commission ( IJC) created by this treaty is the administrative body that would normally have the responsibilty to review and approve the GRAND Canal. But the IJC does not have jurisdiction to consider the GRAND Canal because the IJC’s jurisdiction is limited to waters lying along the international boundary between Canada and the US. This does not include the James Bay or the waters flowing into it. So the Boundary Waters Treaty will have to be amended to extend the jurisdiction of the IJC to all water basins whereever located in Canada or the US.
However, the biggest problem with the GRAND Canal is that although (if you think it through carefully) it is the only real soluton to the problem, it's adoption and implementation demand that Canadians and Americans move up to a new level of international trust and co-operation. But Canada and the US have shown in the past that when the benefits are worthwhile or the risks serious they can work together on projects of immense mutual benefit. Well know examples are the St. Lawrence Seaway and NORAD.
The important question is this: what will it take to start politicians studying this proposal? In my view, education of the public is key. The public has to be educated as to the “win-win” nature of this proposal. It must be explained to Canadians how they can have more fresh water after they share it with the Americans. Americans have to be told that they can trust Canadians to deliver to them water from James Bay in the same way they trust Canadians to deliver to them electricity from James Bay at the present time. For generations to come the GRAND Canal will be a solution to financial and unemployment problems in Canada and the US while preserving the resource sovereignity in both countries. Once the public is educated on the “win-win” nature of the GRAND Canal and the polls show public sentiment in it's favour I am confident that the politicians will follow suit.
Education is indeed the key. This where CNN and others in the media come in. The GRAND Canal needs support and exposure in the media for this educational push. The publishing of this iReport and any other exposure that CNN gives to the GRAND canal can only help the cause. You might even be able to talk my soon be 99 year dad into an interview in his home in St. Johns Newfoundland. He needs little encouragement to talk about his GRAND Canal and he is still patiently waiting. .
for CNN iReports
1. Link to the Globe&Mail web site video of my father discussing the GRAND Canal :
2. One page summary of the GRAND Canal proposal composed by my father in May of 2009. (attached)
3. Power Point Presentation and PDF text file of my father’s 2001 presentation to the American Society of Civil Engineers (attached).
4.Link to the GRAND Canal web site (last updated in 2005):
5.Link to the Wikipedia Article on the GRAND Canal :
6.Outline of presentation to the Prime Ministers Chief of Staff Nigel Wright by by the GRAND Canal Group on June 21st 2011. (21 page PDF file attached)
7. My email dated November 7th 2011 to Nigel Wright. (attached).
8.My reporting email to the GRAND Canal Group dated December 19th, 2011 (attached).