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Conserving electricity means protecting our water!

29 April 2014

How Electricity Use Affects Water

The way we currently generate and use electricity negatively affects our earth in many ways, one of which has to do with water. I recently came across two important news stories on water issues and was inspired to write a blog on the effects electricity consumption has on water. The news stories, EPA delays rule on power plant cooling water and Finding water for fracking becomes’ critical issue’ in Ohio, highlight two of the issues associated with using water for electricity generation – the sheer amount of water drawn from sources and the effect on fish populations. I will summarize what I have learned about these issues and provide some ideas for things you can all do to improve the problem. (Hint: it has to do with energy conservation!)


Most electricity generated in the US is generated from thermoelectric plants, which use a heat source (coal, natural gas or nuclear fission) to heat water to make steam to turn turbines. These plants then use water to cool the steam back into water, returning it to the source (most often a nearby river). Through this process the cooling water returns to the source at a higher temperature and containing pollutants that can cause fish kills and algea blooms.

“Nationwide, electricity from hydro-power plants consumes about 9 gallons of water per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produced.” (GreenBuildingAdvisor)


Water Consumption and Withdrawals in the United States by Use

“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 ½ of all fresh, surface water withdrawals from rivers and lakes.” (River Network) 


Drilling a natural gas well takes about 4 to 5 million gallons of water, of which only 6-20% is recaptured to be reused.  Up to 80% of this water is taken from local rivers and lakes. Taking this much water from local water sources can cause a lot of stress on the system depending on the amount of rainfall.  For more details on the varying impacts and complexities on water use and fracking take a look at this article from the Energy Collective.


What can you do?

“Using less electricity is the place to start if the goal is to conserve water resources.” (GreenBuildingAdvisor).

Just as conserving your electricity use directly results in lower carbon emissions, it also has a direct impact on our water consumption. Need more ideas in how you can do this in your own life? Start by picking a couple more Energy Challenge actions to do and stick to them.  Conserving electricity is the easiest and most direct way to help conserve and protect our water.



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