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In the first episode of Voyager, Neelix and the Kazon are shown to value water extremely highly. Neelix goes hog wild over its abundance on Voyager. Jabin is impressed by a mere flask full. The Kazon-Ogla freak out over a few hundred gallons. This makes sense when they're shown to be an isolated, primitive mining village on a desert planet.

Later in the episode, the Kazon are shown to possess enormous spaceships with shields and weapons able to quickly reach the Caretaker and battle Voyager.

Voyager makes the point that the Kazon don't have transporters or replicators... but water isn't hard to make. If you have enough power you can reduce just about anything into hydrogen and oxygen and combine them to make water. If you can figure out how to maintain a warp drive, you can figure out how to make water. If there's no suitable matter where you are, fly to somewhere there is.

This is obviously a ploy by the writers to show how much more advanced Federation technology is. They wisely find better ways to demonstrate this. Anyone want to take a shot at propping it up with an in-universe explanation?

I want to get a satisfying answer, so here's some rebuttals to things going around in the comments.

Neelix: Not just the Kazon-Ogla can't seem to figure out how to make or get water, but Neelix also. He has a ship. He's jaunted all over the sector. He has a high motivation to get his hands on water to barter for Kes. He's met advanced societies who probably have the instructions for making water in basic chemistry texts.

The Kazon are on a desert planet: Space travel is casual enough they can fly to the Caretaker and form a fleet, they can fly to where there's water or the means to make it.

Water, or the means to make it, aren't abundant in the area: Hydrogen and oxygen are the first and third most abundant elements in the Universe. We're finding water everywhere we look. Just because water doesn't fall from the sky doesn't mean it's not there. There's extractable water on the Moon and Mars. There's water in rocks.

The Kazon don't know how to make water: We isolated oxygen and hydrogen in the early 1800s and were good enough at making it to fill balloons. Oxygen and hydrogen combine to make water (and a big bang). The Kazon aren't idiots like the Pakled. They can operate and repair warp capable starships and regularly interact with other species. They can pick up a chemistry textbook.

Water is too bulky for trade: The biggest supertanker can carry 700,000 tons, about the mass of Voyager. The Kazon ship that fights Voyager is much, much larger. They can fit a lot water in there.

Water is not economical for trade: If someone is willing and able to pay a lot for a good, it becomes worthwhile to ship and even fight for. Spices, tea, oil, bananas, cocoanut water. Make it valuable enough and we'll conquer a third world nation to get it and ship it across the world. The Kazon-Ogla have valuable ore to trade. If they were being extorted by a single provider, they have ships to seek better deals. It doesn't have to be other Kazon either, if someone's willing to pay well above market price for an item, other traders will come.

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    while its possible to just take hydrogen and oxygen out of the air to make water, its a massive process with not alot of return, and if their planet doesn't have much hydrogen left in its atmosphere it may be impossible. without replicator tech, moving water from 1 planet to another its a costly and time consuming afair, as you have to create a ship large enough to hold the water. and if the closest planet with water is X weeks away, thats again a costly trip to fill a cargo hold with water and lug it back and forth across space. – Himarm Jan 14 '15 at 19:46
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    @Himarm, I don't buy that. Hydrogen is the most abundant substance in the universe. Space faring people should really know to get a hold of it. Same goes for oxygen. – Ghanima Jan 14 '15 at 19:49
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    @Ghanima just because hydrogen is the most abundant substance in the universe doesn't mean its in large quantities near you, i mean most of the hydrogen is inside of stars, however, harvesting hydrogen from a star seems alot harder then transporting water between planets. – Himarm Jan 14 '15 at 20:00
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    @Ricard The same way you get anything else into a large craft, you land at a port. Without transporters you need to be able to land. No port? Use smaller craft to shuttle the goods. It might seem like water is too bulky, but this is exactly what 19th century sailing ships did and might involve rowing barrels of water from shore to a ship anchored some distance out. It was known as "watering the ship". It was a time consuming, labor intensive process, but necessary. It's worth noting you have the same problem with the ore the Ogla are mining. – Schwern Jan 14 '15 at 21:49
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    Another rebuttal: if you have warp capable ships then you can fly to the nearest comet and harvest it. – Greenstone Walker Jan 15 '15 at 1:09
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Because it's not economic to transport water in sufficient quantities to supply a population

It's not clear that the Kazon have much of a handle on their technology. They mostly stole it from another race (the Trabe) and have been trying to figure it out ever since. Those sects that have been doing best, technologically, seem to be those that are doing best socially.

Note their lack of transporters and replicators. Without those, transporting water would need to be done physically, via the loading of shuttles or ships from a water-rich planet, then flying at warp to the destination, then offloading and repeating. Without dedicated cargo vessels, such an undertaking would be enormously expensive and wasteful of materials (such as fuel) that the Kazon don't have in abundance. While it's reasonable to use shuttles to supply water to a single vessel (or even a fleet), doing so for an entire population would be a mind-bogglingly expensive task requiring hundreds of ships in constant motion.

Ocampa is a special case

Where Ocampa is concerned, you also need to take into account that until very recently, it was a (relatively) verdant world. The caretaker's arrival damaged the atmosphere in such a way as to result in the water table collapsing:

"We know there was an environmental disaster about the same time you arrived," she explained. Then, guessing again, "That was the debt that could never be repaid, wasn't it?"

"We're explorers from another galaxy." Its voice rang more strangely now--more like its own thinking, Janeway suspected.

"We had no idea our technology would be so destructive to their atmosphere. Two of us were chosen to stay behind to care for them." Caretaker

The obsession with water is an Ogla obsession.

It's pretty clear that a shifting mixture of sects control different areas of Kazon space, constantly jockeying for position and control of the choicest worlds. It's reasonable to assume that the Ogla's region of space simply doesn't contain that many water worlds. Their home base appears to be on a desert planet (Ocampa) whereas other sects, notably the Nistrum, seem far more interested in getting their hands on the replicators and transporters because they can provide advanced weapons or technical advantage.

The novelisation of the pilot episode Voy:Caretaker specifically identifies that although the Ogla are water-poor, their planet is known to be rich in a substance known as Cormaline, something said to be in high demand elsewhere:

"Who are the Kazon-Ogla?" Neelix waved down the dry riverbed toward the camp. "They are." He started forward without waiting for them, rubbing his hands with excitement. "Kazon sect controls this part of the quadrant. Some have water, some have ore, some have food. They all trade, and they all try to kill each other." They sounded like a lovely people. Janeway motioned everyone to follow on Neelix's heels as more and more Kazon spilled out into the sun, their weapons drawn. "I thought you said the Ocampa had our people."

  • I think the right path is that it's an Ogla obsession. It doesn't work out that it's uneconomical to ship, trade or produce. If it's so valuable you're impressed by a flask of water, it becomes economical. We shipped ice to India on sailing ships. If the other tribes are selling water at exorbitant prices, the Ogla would seek other sources with their own ships. Water isn't hard to make, we figured out how to isolate elemental hydrogen and oxygen in the early 1800s. If you can repair a warp core, you can make water, and you have the power source. – Schwern Jan 14 '15 at 20:29
  • @Schwern - The issue is that in the 30+ years since they overthrew the Trabe, they haven't even been able to form a functioning society. They rely largely on forced labour and barter. Their ships are ramshackle and poorly maintained (for the most part) which explains why they've only got such crappy worlds under their control. Presumably in the next few years they'll lose even those. – Valorum Jan 14 '15 at 20:40
  • I added a bunch of rebutals to various scenarios in my question. It doesn't have to be the Kazon supplying them. If the Ogla value water well above market value and have valuable ore to trade, someone will sell it to them and make a sweet profit. There has to be a reason this is implausible. Cultural taboo? Exclusive deal? Excessive secrecy? Doesn't explain why they're willing to deal with Neelix and why Neelix doesn't act as the middle man. – Schwern Jan 14 '15 at 21:09
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    @Schwern - Because bad writing. – Valorum Jan 14 '15 at 22:05
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    A noble effort! I appreciate it, but it doesn't work. You're right that transporting water is expensive, but according to Memory Alpha Ocampa isn't their home base, it's just a mining base. It is economical to ship water to an economically important mine. And do we know they're short on fuel? They sure spend a lot chasing Voyager! And, again, they could just make it, but this is something the Star Trek universe conveniently forgets. Sorry, I don't know if there is an in-universe answer for this one. – Schwern Jul 1 '16 at 17:03
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There's something else to this question that bothers me.

Everyone is stating reasons they don't have water, or how hard it is to transport without transporters. Even a race that's only been space worthy for 30 years would find recycling water easy.

Assume this:

  1. They are alive so the have some water
  2. Purifying waste water isn't difficult in a dessert environment, and would be a priority if their numbers were medium or high

The most basic way of purifying water can be done in your kitchen with no power, (assuming your in a hot area like a dessert). You simply suspend a cone or pyramid of waterproof fabric above dirty water, and let the the water evaporate and re-condense into clean water. (over simplified but i think it makes the point).

The transport costs are irrelevant as you would only have to do it once. So the question should be why aren't they recycling the water? if they were they would have plenty.

I must also point out that water recycling is done on the international space station today, and I'm pretty sure none of them on-board could fix a warp reactor. Its such simple tech that the only explanation is bad writing.

EDIT Ohh and if you think its impractical on a large scale, waste water (including sewage) on earth today is purified, then returned to the river (or storage tanks), and that intern is feed back into the taps as drinking water

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    In a dessert environment they could just eat ice cream instead. – Valorum Aug 19 '16 at 18:10

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