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Plan: Sell Southeast water to California


Daily News Staff Writer

A Juneau company is proposing to collect fresh water from the ocean surface in Boca de Quadra and transport it to California.

Steven Bowhay, doing business as River Recycler System, wants to deploy a system of buoys, anchors and sheeting to trap fresh water suspended on the surface of the Pacific Ocean in a waterway 38 miles south of Ketchikan.

He’s filed an application with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to use submerged state lands in Boca da Quadra. The fresh water reservoir would be suspended near Kite Island, according to DNR.

Boca de Quadra is an inlet in the in the Misty Fiords National Monument mainland between Ketchikan and the Canadian border.

The reservoir would be suspended in the water column between four anchors spread 2,500 feet apart, making the entire project some 6.2 million square feet.

The Juneau entrepreneur is billing his project as somewhat of a cure-all for a host of West Coast ailments: Drought, climate change, energy shortages and marine debris.

“We do have one patent and one patent pending,” Bowhay said in a phone interview with the Ketchikan Daily News on Monday. “It's just a stunning innovation in moving fresh water.”

He said that in the past few weeks he’s met with Gov. Bill Walker and Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz. Bowhay has also discussed the idea with California water authorities and energy producers.

While Bowhay, who owns a botanical garden business in Alaska’s capital city, is excited about his project, he said he’s been frustrated by DNR’s application process.

Bowhay filed his application four years ago.

“DNR has had a backlog of applications,” said Rob Edwardson, regional manager for the Southeast Region of the Division of Mining, Land and Water. “... It's a bit of a wait for the applicants, but we're whittling it down — the backlog I mean.”

On his application, Bowhay indicated he hoped to get the first stages of the project running by 2014.

To start, the reservoir would collect fresh water that would be pumped out and transported by vessels.

He said he ultimately envisions a collapsible, submergible, 100-foot-wide pipeline that would move fresh water between Southeast Alaska and California.

“(The system) uses gravity and floatation to create energy to generate electricity to purify water to drinking water standards,” Bowhay said. “You don't have to dig any holes or do any filling.”

He noted the recently completed, $1 billion desalination plant near Carlsbad, California, and how its output compared to his project.

“It would take 100 of those $1 billion plants to supply drinking water to those people (in California),” he said, adding that his project could generate “trillions of gallons and billions of dollars.”

Bowhay said he believed the system was capable of not only supplying drinking water to parched California, but of refilling the underground aquifers that years of droughts have drained.

“I know there's a few million farmers in the central valley that aren't interested in where the water comes from, they just want some of it,” he said.

The state application has gone through two public comment periods — the second closes on Wednesday — and an interagency review process that has involved the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Boca de Quadra supports several different fisheries that might be at odds with Bowhay’s proposal.

Interior waters of the large inlet are home to shrimp and crab fisheries, according to Justin Breeze, a Ketchikan-area management biologist with Fish and Game.

Breeze said he was unfamiliar with Bowhay’s application and directed questions to biologist Scott Walker, who was on leave, but discussed the fisheries in the area.

In addition to shellfish, Boca de Quadra supports pink salmon returns for southern Southeast’s common property seine fishery and leads to Hugh Smith Lake.

Hugh Smith is home to a sizeable sockeye salmon stock that sustains the Tree Point gillnet fishery near the mouth of Boca de Quadra and subsistence and personal use fisheries. Similarly, purse seining takes place near the mouth of the inlet.

“It's one of those systems that we watch and we're paying attention to because we have a weir on it,” Breeze said. “It’s one of the longest-running weirs in Southeast Alaska.”

Hugh Smith also serves as an indicator system for Fish and Game. The strength of sockeye returns to the area gives the state information that it combines with other index systems to make management decisions in southern Southeast at large.

Bowhay said the state was dragging its feet on the project. It’s “been extremely frustrating,” he said, and could lead him to look to base the project in British Columbia.

“We’re hoping people notice that we’re applying, and that it would spark interest,” Bowhay said. “What we want to do is to get the environmental groups to support an idea that isn’t about lowering our quality of life.”