If you’re all done with your vernal equinox celebrations and looking for another excuse to party, you’re in luck. It may not show up on your run-of-the-mill cute-puppy-dog calendar, but it turns out that today is World Water Day. If you’re looking for a way to celebrate it, you could do worse than finding some way to save energy.
World Water Day, says the United Nations, is held on March 22 each year “as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.”
One way UCS has been helping with that effort is by focusing attention on the water implications of our energy choices — some of the connections between energy and water, and some of the collisions that sometimes happen because of our energy sector’s dependence on water.
“Dependence on water”? Yup. It turns out that power plants in the U.S. account for more than 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals in this country, and an appreciable chunk of how much freshwater gets consumed (evaporated). Those are just the sort of data that we’re working to get the word out about.
We do this important work mostly through our Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative (EW3). EW3 is a great collaboration between UCS and leading minds from academic and research institutions across the country, including experts in energy, water, and climate issues.
The work is aimed at coming up with new research and highlighting others’ work to put the water demands of energy more firmly “on the map” for U.S. policy makers and the public, and to motivate low-carbon and low-water energy solutions to energy-water collisions, including in the context of climate change.
So how have we been getting these issues on the map?
Well, a wealth of resources have sprung forth from this collaboration, including reports and web content that help people understand the issue at hand, as well as how we might solve them. Here’s a taste:
- 10 Things You Should Know about the energy-water collisions sets things up, looking at a range of dimensions of the issues at the intersection of energy and water.
- UCS’s “How it Works” pages on electricity and water help people understand why we even talk about water in the context of electricity generation, why power plants in particular use water for cooling, and how water comes into play with different fuels and power generation technologies, such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas.
- Our Power and Water at Risk report sheds light on what kinds of troubles power plants get into (or cause) because of their water dependencies.
- That work is complemented by a handy, go-ahead-and-post-it-on-Facebook infographic documenting some of those specific incidents, updated based on the 2012 drought (“If you can’t take the heat…”).
- Our Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants report details how much water power plants are withdrawing and consuming, and why you might want to care.
While a lot of our EW3 focus is on power plant water use, we’ve also looked at the important water implications of the burgeoning biofuels sector in the U.S. That includes what biofuels mean for water quality — both biofuels in general (Managing the Rising Tide of Biofuels) and corn ethanol in particular (Corn Ethanol’s Threat to Water Resources) — and how we can do them better.
So one way to mark World Water Day today is to think a little more about how our energy choices — how we make and use energy — affect our lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers.
And maybe to even go ahead and take a few minutes to do something about it, swapping an incandescent bulb for a compact fluorescent or LED one that uses a quarter of the electricity, so you can cut down on the water impacts of your lighting needs. Or asking your utility if you can sign up to get your power from low-water renewable energy like wind or solar photovoltaics (“Buy green power”). Or saving the ethanol in gasoline by walking to the library instead of driving.
For today, at least remember that the many energy-water connections mean that important opportunities for addressing water quantity and quality problems may be found in your home, in your office, in your gas tank. Far from the water resources they affect, but important even so.