Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rising energy demand hits water scarcity

Peter Boaz and Matthew O. Berger in IPS: Meeting the growing demand for energy in the U.S., even through sustainable means, could entail greater threats to the environment, new research shows. The study was carried out by Circle of Blue, a network of journalists and scientists dedicated to water sustainability, and could have implications not just for the relationship between energy demand and water scarcity in the U.S. but elsewhere in the world, as well. "It is not just that energy production could not occur without using vast amounts of water. It's also that it's occurring in the era of climate change, population growth and steadily increasing demand for energy," explained Circle of Blue's Keith Schneider, who presented the findings in Washington Wednesday.

"The result is that the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve," he said. About half the 410 billion gallons of water the U.S. withdraws daily goes to cooling thermoelectric power plants, and most of that to cooling coal-burning plants, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

...The U.S. government has not been blind to the conflict between energy and water needs. The first part of a report commissioned by the U.S. Congress in 2005 laid out the consequences of not paying enough attention to water supply issues in increasing energy production. The second part, which would have laid out a research agenda and begun developing solutions, has yet to be made public, says Schneider. He says the U.S. Department of Energy has declined repeated requests to explain why the report has not been published.

…In 2009, the U.S. dedicated 23 million acres of public lands in six states for new solar electricity-generating plants as part of its economic stimulus package, which apportioned nearly 100 billion dollars for clean energy projects. Though the plan appeared promising, environmentalists soon began to point it could have damaging, unintended consequences. Schneider notes that criticism of the impact the water-cooled solar plants could have on water priorities in the U.S. Southwest even came from within the government….

Glen Canyon Dam , Lake Powell, Arizona, shot by , Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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