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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

How Energy Impacts Water Supplies


Water and energy intersect in more ways than many of us realize. Extracting water takes energy. Up to 13 percent of the energy used in the U.S. relates to the pumping, treating or distribution of water, according to a report by the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM). In California alone, up to 19 percent of electricity is used for water extraction, purification and wastewater disposal. Energy is used to pump water from the ground, or from bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. Energy is also used to purify water from pollutants and salt, and pump water through pipelines to deliver it to homes and businesses. Water is necessary for extracting fossil fuels, including mining for coal, drilling for oil and fracking for natural gas.

There are 7 billion people on the planet, and 2.8 billion of them live in water-stressed areas. Energy consumption will increase by 35 percent by 2035, and that will increase water consumption by the energy sector by 85 percent. Groundwater supplies are drying up around the world due to droughts and increased consumption. “Climate change  has the potential to further reduce freshwater supply even more,” the NAEM report, the first in a series on emerging issues, states. This can happen several ways. As temperatures increase and ice and snow cover melt, that freshwater will turn saline as it melts into the ocean. Changing weather patterns is another way that freshwater supply can be reduced by climate change.

Aging infrastructure can cause water to be lost through leakage and inefficient distribution networks. In the U.S., energy and water infrastructures are four decades old. In the past, water infrastructure investments focused on dams, reservoirs and improving water availability to some arid regions, but few surface water reservoirs have been built since 1980. This is particularly important for certain western states, including California, that are arid. All of California is currently in a drought, and farmers across the state are having to farm with less water available.

The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. There will need to be increases in both energy and water to produce, process and distribute enough food to feed that many people. Agriculture accounts for 71 percent of water withdrawals globally. The demand for energy- and water-intensive foods, such as meats and grains, will increase by as much as 50 percent by 2025. “Having sufficient energy and freshwater supplies to produce enough food to meet the nutrition needs of a growing population and changing diets will be one of the most complex challenges of our future,” the report points out

Investors and companies are recognizing and dealing with water scarcity risks

Investors are starting to recognize the risks associated with water scarcity. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index has included water in its assessment criteria since 2010. CDP recently launched the CDP Water Disclosure to help institutional investors understand business risks and opportunities associated with water scarcity. Investors are not the only ones recognizing the risks of water scarcity. Companies are increasingly understanding that conserving water is important. That includes utilities, and some of them are reducing their water use by using less water-intensive cooling towers which reduces their reliance on a water source. Other companies are realizing the importance of working with the agricultural sector. Nestle and General Mills work with farmers to help them irrigate more efficiently.

One of the best ways companies can both prepare for and deal with the risks associated with water scarcity is by switching to one of the renewable energies that does not use freshwater. Certain renewable energy technologies do not need freshwater to operate, including wind, solar photovoltaics, solar dish-engine, geothermal, hydroelectric and ocean energy systems.

Image credit: mlhradio

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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