We are indeed lucky to have some of the largest renewable freshwater reservoirs on the planet,
even more so in comparison with our small population size. Elsewhere in the world, particularly
among our neighbours to the south, people would be willing to pay considerable sums to access a
small part of this water.
The debate over exporting large quantities of northern Quebec water has nonetheless never really taken place, for understandable reasons. The only minimally detailed proposal that was ever discussed was that of the so-called “Grand Canal,” first made in the 1960s then revived by a group of business people in the 1980s.
It was a grandiose project, along the scale of the pyramids of Giza, involving the construction of a massive dam closing James Bay and a long canal diverting the accumulated freshwater to the Great Lakes. Several nuclear power plants would have been required just to pump the water, and the cost of the project at the time was estimated at $100 billion, which would be $175 billion today – three times the annual budget of the entire Quebec government!
What has always been missing to allow for a proper rational discussion of this opportunity was a technically realistic, sustainable plan to develop the resource, a project that doesn’t involve
massive changes to the ecosystem and that would be financially viable. The goal of this paper is to
summarize just such a project, which we are calling the Northern Waters complex.