Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Fossil Fuel Electricity Generation—The Fastest-growing Use of Freshwater in the U.S.

Energy

River Network

A new report by River Network provides the first accounting of how much water is used to generate electricity on an average per-kilowatt basis. The report, Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity found that for every gallon of water used in an average household, five times more water (40,000 gallons each month) is used to provide that home with electricity via hydropower turbines and fossil fuel power plants.

The Burning Our Rivers report summarizes current research on the water consumption of all power production in the U.S., including the water consumption of both non-renewable and renewable energy sources. The water footprint of electricity is highest for hydropower: each day, enough water to meet the demands of more than 50 million people evaporates from reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams.

The report also highlights that electricity production by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants is the fastest-growing use of freshwater in the U.S., accounting for more than about half of all fresh, surface water withdrawals from rivers. This is more than any other economic sector, including agriculture, and occurs in an era when all other use sectors are reducing water withdrawals. The report notes that experimental “clean coal” technologies are only expected to significantly increase water use.

More than a quarter of the water withdrawn by fossil-fuel power plants to cool their generators goes up in steam—the remainder carries pollutants and excess heat into rivers and waterways, causing fish kills and algae blooms.

“Fossil fuel power plants don’t just pollute the air,” noted River Network President Todd Ambs. “Cooling towers are also a very inefficient and environmentally detrimental use of our increasingly strained water resources.”

The report finds that wind and photovoltaic solar power have almost no water footprint at all, although other renewables such as biofuels from irrigated crops and solar thermal plants have water-use factors greater than some coal and nuclear power facilities.

“The days of taking water for granted in our decisions about energy production must come to an end,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director at the Alabama Rivers Alliance. "This report will help inform our state leaders about the key role energy plays in water management in Alabama."

The recommendations of the Burning Our Rivers report chart a new course that would include investments in water-efficient cooling technologies and “low-water” photovoltaic solar and wind power generation. Taken together and implemented across the country, these steps could reduce the amount of water used by the thermoelectric sector by 80 percent.

“We’re using a lot of water to keep the lights on and the TV running when we could be using it for drinking water, irrigation and to provide healthier rivers for fish,” notes Wendy Wilson, director of River Network’s Rivers, Energy & Climate Program and chief author of the report.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER and ENERGY pages for more related news on these topics.

———

River Network is a River Network’s mission is to empower and unite people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain the health of our country.  Founded in 1988, we are leading a national watershed protection movement that includes nearly 2,000 state, regional and local grassroots organizations whose primary purpose is freshwater protection. Our 17-person staff is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with field staff in Vermont, Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah and Idaho.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less
Protesters face off against security during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

In just two weeks, three states have passed laws criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listen to White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx speak in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has bowed to the advice of public health experts and extended social distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus till at least April 30.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Charli Shield

At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.

Read More Show Less
Pie Ranch in San Mateo, California, is a highly diverse farm that has both organic and food justice certification. Katie Greaney

By Elizabeth Henderson

Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:

Read More Show Less