Why is water not imported in guild highliners to Arrakis? I can understand a reluctance to import water because it would upset the ecology, and endanger the spice production somehow, but surely they can import water for survival purposes?

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    Why would the guild want to import water (which would kill the sandworms on which they're dependent)?
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2014 at 17:10
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    "Lack of water" is an old (and rather silly) sci-fi trope. If anyone really wanted to, they wouldn't need the long and expensive process of importing water from another solar system; they could simply divert a few (relatively) local comets. Water is abundant in space! Mar 17, 2015 at 14:22
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    @MasonWheeler: Given the space travel technology in Dune, importing water from another solar system might actually be easier and cheaper than moving it across real space within a solar system. And it's not clear that Dune's system even has water-rich comets. Mar 20, 2015 at 20:25
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    I think that the book makes it a bit clearer: There is sufficient water on Arrakis, but the ecology sequesters water, which leads to the life cycle of sand worms. Pardot Kynes, the father of Liet, conceives of a way to modify the ecology so that Arrakis could be green in some areas, leaving plenty of desert for the sand worm's ecology, including the production of the spice 'melange'. Jul 6, 2016 at 1:13
  • @Valorum the guild doesn’t know about the cycle IIRC. Jul 5, 2020 at 4:29

5 Answers 5


It might help to recall how and why transporting water (and food) has a very low cost–benefit ratio on earth¹: Most humans, animals or plants consume their body weight’s equivalent in a rather short time. On Arrakis, the benefit of water is arguably higher than on earth (and the art of recycling moisture has been brought to perfection) but so are the transportation costs – you cannot just build a pipeline from Caladan to Dune and there are several passages in the books indicating that space travel is expensive and its costs are a relevant factor when considering troop movements. This alone might explain why importing water on ecologically relevant scales does not happen.²

As for importing water for individual purposes, I would expect it to be cheaper to acquire it locally. If water were that expensive on Arrakis, everybody would use stillsuits except the very rich. Still, there seems to be no effective ban on importing water as this would require a thorough inspection of the cargo of each ship transported by a heighliner, which I cannot remember to have read about. So after all, we cannot exclude small amounts of water being imported to Arrakis and, for the books to make sense, we do not have to, as there is still reason as to why water is expensive.

One could argue that every traveller coming from a water-rich planet and staying on Arrakis for a while leaves the planet with some litres of water less in his body than when he arrived and thus effectively is a small water import. A similar thing goes for food imports (which we read about once or twice in the books), which not only bring nutrients to Arrakis, as most food consists of water to a relevant percentage.

Admittedly, this is all very vague, but when reading the books, it never struck me as unrealistic that water imports are not mentioned.

¹ If it hadn’t, droughts and famines would be much easier to fight.
² In addition, the Spacing Guild would almost certainly notice such water imports on conventional ways (as you cannot transport such huge volumes and weights unnoticed) as well as via prescience and prevent them.

Addendum: What about the Fremen?

The Fremen live in regions of Arrakis that are even more dry than the already dry North polar region where the rest of the population lives. This is why the Fremen need to use extreme measures to recycle water while the population of Arrakeen does not (and e.g. not wear stillsuits).

As a result water is even more valuable for the Fremen, to the extent that the importing water for them could be worthwhile. Alternatively, you might transport water from the North polar region to them. This doesn’t happen for several reasons, such as:

  • the transport is dangerous,
  • the aforementioned low cost–benefit ratio of transporting water,
  • the Fremen want to be independent,
  • the Fremen have nothing to trade in return,
  • anybody who wants to start such an enterprise would need to find the Fremen first.
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    +1. Not only is interplanetary travel expensive, it's also entirely controlled by the Guild, who have a very strong interest in keeping Arrakis stable. Jun 4, 2014 at 17:11
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan: However, the guild does not seem to control water imports, as this would require thoroughly checking the load of every ship transported by a heighliner, which in turn does not happen IIRC. As I tried to reason, such a control is not necessary because all the guild needs to worry about is if somebody imports ecologically relevant amounts of water, the costs of which would be gargantuan.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 4, 2014 at 17:43
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    But, if you got caught acting against the guild's interests by shipping water, you'd probably be economically ruined. Also, a plan to import massive amounts of water to Arrakis would probably show up on a navigator's limited prescience. Jun 5, 2014 at 3:22
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    So basically, they ARE importing water. Its just that now you have two sources of water, importing via highliner, or finding it on Arrakis itself. But BOTH are extremely expensive, which is why water is expensive overall. Am I understanding correctly? Jun 5, 2014 at 8:38
  • @muistooshort: Maybe, but we plainly do not know whether there is a ban on importing water. A plan to import massive amounts of water would also attract the guild’s attention on conventional ways.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 5, 2014 at 8:52

Water is poisonous to the sandworms. Also the sand trout seal water away to protect the sand worms as this is their later stage of development.

The sandtrout ... was introduced here from some other place. This was a wet planet then. They proliferated beyond the capability of existing ecosystems to deal with them. Sandtrout encysted the available free water, made this a desert planet ... and they did it to survive. In a planet sufficiently dry, they could move to their sandworm phase. — Leto Atreides II

So importing water could destabalise the ecology like stated and threated "The Spice" which no one of course wants.

Any imported water would need sealing away to protect it from the sand trout but they could import it if they are careful with it.

  • Yes. Probably the water enjoyed by the Atreides family when they first arrive on Arrakis is imported from offworld; and they make a few humane gestures to provide more water to the townspeople in Arrakeen. But in general, the Imperial ruling classes care very little for the common townsfolk and still less for the Fremen. Their well-being is not a priority; securing the spice is. So they wouldn't want to import more water than they really had to. (BTW the Spacing Guild might not be needed, the Arrakis system would likely have water ice in comets, asteroids and the like.) Jun 4, 2014 at 15:55
  • I recall that water was imported from the poles.
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2014 at 18:46
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit yes that would be likely due to arrakis once having plenty of water it had to come from somewhere. Jun 5, 2014 at 6:49
  • @Richard yes I have a vague memory of this but as it's vague I didn't put it in ;) (very long time since I read the dune series due a reread I think) Jun 5, 2014 at 6:50
  • IMHO, this should be the accepted answer.
    – Omegacron
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:06

I think part of the point of the book is that no one until Kynes understands the biology of the sandworms well enough to see how intimately spice production and the climate are related, so no one is keeping the planet dry for that reason.

I think the more relevant question is, who would be willing to spend money on that? We're talking about a planet; you could spend decades hauling in water, and not make a dent, or you could put that money into buying more harvesting equipment, or spend more on soldiers to fight Fremen, to make more land safe to harvest on.

And the Harkonnens like oppressing people. They aren't going to lift a finger to aid the people. And if they hadn't invaded, it would have been decades before the Atreides could have thought of spending their money on anything but making more money, to shore up their position.

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    The guild seem pretty well aware of the ecology. They have extensive contacts with the fremen
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2014 at 18:45
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    I have no idea where you are getting that. Not "Dune". The Fremen bribe them, and that's the extent of their contact as described in the book.
    – swbarnes2
    Jun 4, 2014 at 20:20
  • I forget which of the prequels spoke about the Guild's (failed) attempts to start a new worm cycle prior to the events of "Dune".
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2014 at 20:24
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    Prequels! Uggg.
    – swbarnes2
    Jun 4, 2014 at 20:35
  • No argument here. I read a couple of them because I was literally stuck in the wilds of Scotland with no TV and no internet.
    – Valorum
    Jun 4, 2014 at 20:42

Water is imported. The first novel makes specific mention of water sellers, water shippers, and water smugglers. But not a lot, and few could afford it.

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    This sounds like a decent answer, but could be improved with quotes from the book Mar 20, 2015 at 16:47
  • All in the first book, many of them at the dinner that the Duke hosts. Look it up for yourself. Apr 1, 2015 at 14:14
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    Just that water is sold, shipped, and smuggled, does not mean that this happens interplanetary. It could as well be intraplanetary.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 6, 2016 at 7:52

When Leto II the God Emperor ascended and during his many millenia of rule, water was imported in vast quantities to terraform Rakis to the detriment of the sandworm-supporting ecosystem. He(It?) even died after having too much exposure to water, specifically immersion in the Idaho River from falling off a blown up bridge. see (God Emperor of Dune)

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    This sounds like a decent emperor, but could be improved with quotes from the boom Mar 20, 2015 at 20:07

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