On The Water Front

Dec. 21, 2004
Exotic solutions include giant balloons, moving icebergs.

Besides piping and transporting water to parched regions, many countries and municipalities are exploring alternative solutions. Singapore is experimenting with desalination. Soon it expects to call for bids from private companies to build several plants that could lead to desalinated water accounting for 8% of Singapore's annual usage. Israel, too, is buying into desalination. Last spring it announced plans to conduct a feasibility study for a $150 million seawater desalination plant. Texas runs a few small plants that convert brackish water into fresh. Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, the French water and utility company, boasts a tiny membrane that can almost immediately purify water contaminated with microbes, pathogens, or elements. Exotic solutions to scarcity also exist. One company proposes to drag the liquid in giant balloons to thirsty regions. Another wants to pull icebergs to drought-afflicted areas. Since 1993 the Global Water Corp., Vancouver, B.C., has held a permit from officials in Sitka, Alaska, to export water in bulk flowing from snowcapped mountains to Mexico and China. It has yet to ship an ounce because of the prohibitive cost of transportation.

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