Water Conscious Canadian Firm Harvests Icebergs

By Neville Judd

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland, Canada, August 29, 2000 (ENS) - A Canadian company that harvests ice from icebergs to make beer and vodka has signed a deal to export freshwater from Greenland.


Iceberg Corporation of America was the first company in Canada licensed to harvest icebergs for fresh water. (Photo courtesy Iceberg Corporation of America)
The Newfoundland based Iceberg Corporation of America believes a global water shortage is looming. The 700,000 square miles of Greenland's ice cap could help solve part of that shortage, said Iceberg's vice president Maurice Murphy, on Tuesday.

The Greenland ice cap is up to 3.5 kilometers (two miles) thick and is a source of freshwater which predates humans and pollution.

Murphy declined to say who the company would be exporting the water to. "This was an opportunity for us to seize the moment and wait for markets to evolve," he said. "We will be developing a customer base that will be in place down the road."

Iceberg's joint venture partner is the international shipping company, Allan Idd Jensen, of Nuuk, Greenland. The Greenland joint venture company will be known as Aquapolaris.

Greenland is part of Denmark but is self governed in a system known as Home Rule. The Home Rule government issued Aquapolaris the first licence to draw water from a waterfall near Nuuk, where more than 10,000 of the country's 56,000 people live.


The statue of Hans Egede, who founded Nuuk in 1728, overlooks the town. (Photo courtesy Nuuk Tourism)
The waterfall feeds directly into a fjord, which will allow ships to moor alongside the waterfall and draw water directly onboard. This will result in minimal environmental impact and efficient handling costs, said the company.

"The water is so clean, so pristine, the only danger of contamination lies in how we handle it," said Murphy, who recently returned from Nuuk. "We have to carry out extensive controls before the bottling process."

Murphy would not comment on the wider issue of private companies owning a life sustaining commodity that critics fear will eventually be in scarce supply.

"You could pose the same question to the oil companies," Murphy told ENS. "But hopefully, we'll have better ethics."

John Briscoe, senior water adviser at the World Bank, recently warned of a global water shortage. "Unless people learn to use water more efficiently, there won't be enough freshwater to sustain the Earth's population," he said.

His fears are shared by Klaus Toepfer, head of the United Nations Environment Progamme, who recently said, "My fear is that we're headed for a period of water wars between nations."

But Kader Asmal, chair of the World Commission on Dams, says there is no danger of world water wars. Water scarcity is cause for concern, he admitted earlier this month, but said "there is not a shred of evidence" to back up the rhetoric of water wars.


Conditions have to be just right before an iceberg can be harvested. (Photo by K. Bruce Lane Photography, courtesy Icebergs of Newfoundland and Labrador)
Iceberg Corp. has been harvesting icebergs for more than three years. "We look for icebergs in sheltered coves, preferably grounded and definitely not at sea, because we can't harvest at sea," said Murphy.

"A barge supporting a grapple crane breaks off chunks of ice which are then crushed and melted in storage tanks," explained Murphy.

The water is then bottled as iceberg water or used in beer and vodka products marketed across North America under the name Borealis. Business is good, said Murphy, who says that only one other company is in the same business, although on a much smaller scale.

"We've never really had anyone complain about what we do. In fact we've been called by people in other towns asking us to come and get rid of the icebergs blocking their harbour," he said.