April 1, 2019
By Nestle J. Frobish
The California Department of Water Resources is working to employ the ongoing break-up of the Antarctic ice cap to provide a vast supply of water for California. Current plans are to employ ocean tugs to bring ice bergs into San Francisco Bay for docking in the State Water Project’s Clifton Court Forebay. Several propulsion designs are being explored.
The resulting meltwater will provide a salt-free source of water in the south Delta for local and Delta export water users, cold water for Delta Smelt, and a summer winter-sports recreation activity in the southern Delta. Satisfying the entire roughly 7 maf/year of total Delta export water demand will require roughly 8.6 billion tons of ice berg annually (9.2 cubic kilometers of ice).
“We decided that we needed a new source where we could be the senior appropriator, and use the water to help contribute cold environmental flows in a warmer climate. In this case, as soon as the ice drops off the Antarctic coast, it is ours to divert,” said Russell Berg of DWR.
“The operating costs are high, but this drought-proof source will mean we don’t need expensive new Delta conveyance,” said Bob Apple of the Southern California’s Metropolitan Water Authority. Other savings also are likely. “With this immense new water source, we can stop studying cloud seeding, desalination, and fog capture,” said a spokesman for LBL.
Environmental experts are particularly excited about adding cold water to the Delta. “Before this solution, we haven’t had a way of keeping parts of the Delta cool enough for Delta Smelt with a warmer climate,” said Allison Ick of UC Davis. As an adaptation to climate change, rising sea levels will allow deeper ice bergs to be brought through the Golden Gate and into the Delta.
ReSnore the Delta, a formerly-sleepy local environmental group, has raised concerns about the impacts of deepening Delta channels to allow the bergs to be brought into the Delta. However, the Byron Chamber of Commerce welcomes the prospect of summer-time winter sports for the local economy. “The southern Delta will be a place for winter sports in the summertime. We already sell ice, bait, and beer for bass fishermen. Renting ice-axes, crampons, and skates for winter sports will bring additional summer business,” said spokeswoman Bethany Brentwood.
Restore Hetch Hetchy expressed enthusiasm for the idea as a substitute form of cold water storage for the people of San Francisco. “SFPUC can park pure glacier water at Pier 39, and no longer need Hetch Hetchy reservoir,” said a spokesperson.
Titanic Cruise Lines has raised safety concerns that transporting ice bergs to San Francisco Bay might bring hazards to navigation.
ICE-MAR corporation, the world’s largest cultivator of ice fields, also working to bring smaller ice bergs to just outside of Bakersfield for aquifer recharge. “Infiltrating another couple of cubic kilometers of ice could end groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley, and be quite an attraction during our hot summer,” said a company spokesperson.
In the nearer term, calving bergs from glaciers in nearer-by Alaska and British Columbia could be used, although ice bergs being shed at growing rate from Antarctica are seen as a more sustainable supply.
Water from the ice bergs would return to the ocean as Delta outflow, urban wastewater, and precipitation from agricultural evapotranspiration, and so would be unavailable for combatting sea level rise. “More research is needed,” said Jay Lund of UC Davis.
Nestle J. Frobish, former chairman of the Worldwide Fair Play for Frogs Committee, is Innovation Chair at the UC Davis Center for Climate Adaptation.
“The facts about iceberg towing,” https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/the-many-failures-and-few-successes-of-zany-iceberg-towing-schemes/243364/
“A Tug on a Frozen Straw,” https://www.fastcompany.com/1755444/watch-tugboat-drag-arctic-iceberg-parched-people-half-world-away-video
“Running ice water,” http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2012/finalwebsite/solution/glaciers.shtml
“Ice for African Development,” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/south-africa-cape-town-water-crisis-plan-drag-iceberg-from-antarctica/
“Ice Bergs for Middle East Peace!,” https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/05/18/uae-company-wants-to-tow-an-iceberg-from-antarctica-for-drinking_a_22086611/