Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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

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

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More than a quarter of the water withdrawn by fossil-fuel power plants to cool their generators goes up in steam—the remainder carries pollutants and excess heat into rivers and waterways, causing fish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

In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less
Monarch butterflies in Mexico's Oyamel forest in Michoacan, Mexico after migrating from Canada. Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

By D. André Green II

One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.

Read More Show Less
The 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on Sept. 17 introduced ten new Ig Nobel Prize winners, each intended to make people "laugh then think." Improbable Research / YouTube

The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch