Can the Energy Sector Adapt to Drought?

Via The River Network, a report on the watergy challenge facing the energy sector:

Main Image for: Can the Energy Sector Adapt to Drought?

This summer has been a call-to-action for those of us following water and energy issues. Starting in July, power plant shutdowns in Illinois and then on the Connecticut River demonstrated the vulnerability of thermoelectric power when too much waste heat looks for somewhere to go in a summer with too little water.

And then by August, what some of us thought was the “2011 Texas drought” floated north and engulfed more than half of the country. Last week I listened to Dr. Roger Pulwarty (our nation’s lead drought expert) explain the impacts of the current deep and persistent drought. According to Dr. Pulwarty, this is the largest area of the U.S. in drought since the dust bowl. Drought severity has increased over the last several cycles and has become interspersed with more intense rain events. This drought has cost over 77 billion dollars to agriculture and put all water users on alert. But freshwater ecosystems are the first to feel the heat and are a major casualty of the current conditions.

How do we adapt? Storage reservoirs have been crucial to prolonging urban water supplies while farmers and ranchers scrambled to hang on. But dams are just buckets that people build hoping to capture rain – they don’t create water that isn’t there. Hoover Dam on the Colorado has now fallen so low that the chances of it ever refilling –and Lake Powell above it– have been called “vanishing small” by researchers. Apparently there are limits to what our most magnificent engineering wonders can provide.

In a warming world, the importance of conserving both water and energy at the same time is key to sustainability. The “call to action” is reduced consumption — while the “business as usual” approach is to expect our watersheds to produce more water and water-intensive energy — for example, by burning more coal to replace lost hydropower from Hoover Dam, or more natural gas to replace coal plants closed by loss of cooling water. Unfortunately, long-term ecological changes are already reducing the possibility that the “business as usual” approach will succeed.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 15th, 2012 at 8:28 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”