The GRAND Canal project is resurfacing. The $100-billion scheme, first proposed in the 1930s, is being studied by the International Joint Commission under a mandate from the Canadian and U.S. governments.

The commission was created to review impacts of river diversions and water exports that would affect both countries.

The GRAND Canal project would see a 160-kilometre dike being built across James Bay. The 13.6 million litres of water that flows into the bay per second would slowly turn it into a fresh-water artificial lake.

The water would then be diverted through 257 km of canals down the Ottawa River and into Lake Superior, from where it would be funnelled into the thirsty U.S. Mid-West to irrigate farms and provide drinking water.

Thought to be dead, the GRAND Canal scheme has resurfaced at several conferences in recent years. Montreal engineer Tom Kierans, who now lives in Newfoundland and is 86, came up with the idea 60 years ago and is still promoting it. Former premier Robert Bourassa devoted a chapter to it in his book Power of the North.

Kierans told Le Devoir in a recent article that the project would require 30,000 MW of electricity – equal to the entire existing production of Quebec – to pump the water into the Great Lakes. The waterflow would reach 2,250 cubic metres per second, a third of the flow of the St. Lawrence River.

GRAND stands for “great recycling and northern development.”

A spokesman for the International Joint Commission, Fabien Lengellé, said the project is just being studied; no decisions are being made at this point.

He added, “If thousands of Americans come to the day when they have to ration water, the GRAND Canal project will take less time than Jesus Christ to resuscitate.”

Experts believe the project could destabilize the climate of North America and the Arctic. The GRAND Canal Co., founded in the 1960s, is inactive legally.

At one point, the company’s head was Louis Desmarais, brother of Paul Desmarais, a politically influential financier who controls Power Corporation.

Among the shareholders in the 1980s were U.S. engineering giant Bechtel and two Montreal engineering firms, SNC and Rousseau, Sauvé, Warren.