Water plays a larger role in society more than the average citizen knows. Our precious H2O is not just a source of hydration for our bodies or a means of getting clean it is used to create energy. Energy and water are woven into our daily lives and strongly linked to one another. Producing energy uses water, and providing freshwater uses energy. Both these processes face growing limits and problems.
To keep the power on in the US each day requires the withdrawal of 143 billion gallons of freshwater each day.
Half of our country’s 104 nuclear power reactors withdraw 25-60 gallons of water for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates. Coal plants withdraw 20-50 gallons per kilowatt-hour, not considering the water needed to mine coal or store coal waste from these plants. So, for either a nuclear or coal plant to generate electricity for one load of hot-water laundry 3 to 10 times more water must be used at the plant than is used to wash the clothes.
We also rely on water to move around. Water is a major component of the chemical fuels that help our cars run and heat our homes. In fact, 13 gallons of water are used to produce just one gallon of gasoline. The United States alone pumps approximately 367 million gallons of gasoline a day.
The growing demands for electricity and gasoline require us to have on hand a never-ending supply of water. Unfortunately the water’s future looks dim. Our water is simply running out. The increased demand for supply, sudden changes in climate, severe droughts, extreme heat, and dangerously low river levels are quickly becoming threats to our water’s survival.
Water withdrawal by power plants can become a major challenge during times of drought or other water stress, when water is simply not available in the required volumes or at the required temperatures power plants have to either temporarily reduce their power output or shut down entirely.
With the loss of just one foot of water in Lake Mead on the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam loses 5 to 6 megawatts of generating capacity. That seemingly small number actually has the potential to supply about 5,000 homes with electricity.
In drought-plagued New Mexico, water is gold. In May of this year, Mora County NM took a firm stand to protect its precious liquid: it banned all oil and gas extraction from county lands. Of concern in Mora, and increasingly throughout the country, is the potential harm to water sources from oil and gas drilling, as a result of the practice known as fracking. Mora County’s decision – to keep more climate-altering fossil fuels in the ground so as to preserve and safeguard local water supplies for its people – draws a precautionary line in the sand.
Climate changes, extreme heat and extended droughts are already testing the resilience of energy and our water systems. By 2030 researchers believe that the net effect nationally will be a more variable and unreliable water situation and that electric demands will grow nearly 30 percent in the Western United Sates and 10 percent in the Southeast, a trend that begs the question: With what water?
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has hopeful opinions on the subject, asking for the US to move on to renewable energy sources. They state that if, by 2050, the US is able to get 80 percent of its electricity from these sources, our water consumption would be cut in half. A decrease by 50 percent would mean less water usage, more energy, and more water reserves. Ultimately, a switch to renewable energy means keeping us out of the darkness. Technologies like the Eco-Safe Digester are also offering a promising solution, to convert food waste into an effluent that our wastewater treatment facilities extract as biogas to be stored and used to make renewable clean energy.
As one can see, without adequate supplies of water, no region’s future is bright.