Could Water be the Oil of the 21st Century?

Two and a half hours north of Minneapolis/St. Paul is Duluth, MN. Sometimes called “San Francisco of the North” (which is a HUGE stretch as far as I’m concerned), it nonetheless is the gateway to the scenic north shore of Lake Superior. I’ve spent several decades on the north shore hiking, scuba diving (some of the best wreck diving in the world is in this freshwater sea), going to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and hanging out at beautiful lodges like the one at Lutsen.

My son and I are up here for our delayed-from-last-summer Dad & Son Adventure (something we do every year) and I’m looking out at the lake which is one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. It’s mostly open water with ice around the shoreline…but is still incredibly beautiful. As I sit here, I’m comparing-and-contrasting this experience with my family’s love of Scottsdale, AZ, the beauty of the desert, our intent to have a second home there and eventually retire, all rolled together with the crisis occurring with water in the southwest (most notably the drop in water levels in the Lake Mead reservoir) and water issues throughout the world.

Consider this from the BBC site on the world water crisis:

  • Ninety-five percent of the United States’ fresh water is underground.
  • North America’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala, is being depleted at a rate of 12 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year. Total depletion to date amounts to some 325 bcm, a volume equal to the annual flow of 18 Colorado Rivers. The Ogallala stretches from Texas to South Dakota, and waters one fifth of US irrigated land.
  • Today, one person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation.
  • We use about 70% of the water we have in agriculture. But the World Water Council believes that by 2020 we shall need 17% more water than is available if we are to feed the world.

So tying this back to me personally — and the dichotomy of being here by Lake Superior vs. in the desert in Scottsdale — is a discussion some time ago about potentially building a pipeline to divert water from Lake Superior to the Mississippi river (to replenish the Ogallala aquifer) or to the desert southwest to feed the thirsty inhabitants.

Thus far, it’s been defeated for environmental reasons and the Province of Ontario, Canada was one its biggest detractors. Still…the Canadian government is considering selling Canadian water. If so, it’ll be very interesting to see if water truly will be the oil of the 21st Century.

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  1. George Johnson on March 7, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Steve it was great seeing you and your son up on Lake Superior. I love your new blog and have thought about this very water question many times myself. I loook forward to reconeecting soon..


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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.