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Is bulk water transport by ocean feasible in California?

Towed water bags in Turkey

Towed water bags in Turkey

Recent plant closures Humboldt County in northern California have lessened their demand for water. San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and San Diego need more water. Desalination is a possibility. So, apparently, is bulk water transport, transporting water by ocean in giant bags towed by ocean-going tugs. While this may sound bizarre, it’s already happening in some Greek islands and Turkey.

We examine a potential transfer from Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) in northern California to each of three candidate municipal agencies along the coast of central and southern California. HBMWD has available water as discussed later in the paper. Each potential buyer anticipates demand increases that cannot be met with available supplies, and is therefore actually contemplating ocean-water desalination as a means to augment supply. HBMWD is currently seeking a use for water recently made available by industrial plant closures in its service territory. This is an appealing location for testing the economic feasibility of water bags because the costs and controversy that often plague inter-regional water transfers are minimal. If oceanic bulk water transport is found to be competitive in this case study, it might also be competitive elsewhere.

Thus, assuming no technical difficulties and / or rogue swordfish, towing water along the coast of California could be cost-efficient compared to desalination.

Cost of water bags vs desalination in California

Cost of water bags vs desalination in California

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