Monday, November 28, 2011

Water shortages threaten electricity generation at the same time power plants strain water supplies

The Kresge Foundation: A scarcity of fresh, clean water is recognized as one of this century’s biggest challenges – with increasing temperatures, droughts and extreme storms linked to climate change expected to make the problem even worse.

Many Americans are responding by installing low-flow showers and toilets, planting gardens that need little water and otherwise reducing their household consumption. However, most people probably don’t know that they are using more water by turning on lights, computers and electrical appliances than by washing dishes and cars. As a new report details, electricity generation in the U.S. consumes and affects vast quantities of water – approximately as much as agriculture and more than municipal uses.

This creates what the Union of Concerned Scientists-led report refers to as “an energy-water collision.” First, the authors write, power generation exacerbates escalating water crises; then, water crises threaten the reliability of our power supply.

Entitled “Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource,” the report is the first of several planned by the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative, a collaboration led by UCS. Kresge’s Environment Program provided $750,000 over two years to support the research. The effort represents the first systematic assessment of the effects of power plant cooling on water resources in the U.S., says John Rogers, senior analyst for the group’s Climate and Energy Program.

“We’ve found that we’re largely flying blind,” Rogers says. “We, as a society, haven’t had a good handle on just how much water we’re using and where....

At Hoover Dam, shot by Ronen Perry, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

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