California: Saving Water Saved A Lot Of Power, Too

Via the San Diego Union-Tribune, a report on the electricity savings realized during California’s recently mandated water cuts:

As debate continues in San Diego County and around the state over how aggressively to conserve water amid a historic drought, a new study finds that cuts in urban water use have saved significant amounts of electricity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis, published by UC Davis, capitalized on the unique circumstances created by California’s drought. It culled statistics that electric utilities and water districts statewide were required to submit because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s unprecedented order for residents and businesses to lower water consumption by an average of 25 percent.

During Brown’s initial emergency conservation program that stretched from June of last year through February, energy savings from water conservation totaled 922,543 megawatt hours — enough to power 135,000 homes for a year, according to the data project.

The State Water Resources Control Board has reviewed the study’s findings, which were submitted to the agency as part of a contest meant to promote innovative uses of public data.

“The numbers were surprisingly large for those of us who have been in this field for some time now,” said Max Gomberg, conservation manager for the state water board. “I was pleasantly surprised at the magnitude of the action.”

The energy savings also eliminated 219,653 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. By comparison, state standards call for such emissions to drop back to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The figure in 2014, the most recent year for available data, was 28 million metric tons above that long-term benchmark.

“We need to be way more efficient than we’ve been with water use, and part of the reason we need to do that is to meet our climate change goals,” Gomberg said.

The electricity conserved through pumping less water to customers was substantial enough that during peak summer months last year, the savings equaled the combined impact of all energy efficiency programs offered by major investor-owned utilities in California — and at less than a third of the cost.

“We were quite surprised when we looked that the numbers,” said Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, which produced the new analysis.

“I think people have known this intuitively for a couple of years, but our analysis highlighted it,” he added.

The findings come as environmental groups and water managers have sometimes differed on how much conservation is needed, especially as new supply sources — including desalination plants, expanded reservoirs and water recycling programs — come online.

Water districts in San Diego County have cited these types of supply enhancements as they lobbied state regulators for nearly a year now to ease the governor’s conservation mandate. For example, they successfully emphasized that the Poseidon desalination facility in Carlsbad should substantially offset the need to curtail this region’s water use under current drought conditions.

Bob Yamada, director of water resources for the San Diego County Water Authority, said the UC Davis study doesn’t have much significance on the region’s water strategies.

“Energy use is not the driver of what we do,” Yamada said. “As a water supply agency, our primary responsibility is to supply this life-giving resource to our resident and businesses.

“Yes when we have to sacrifice we will do it, but when we’ve invested in drought-resilient supplies and water is available to meet our needs, then what we’re after long-term is using water efficiently,” he added.

In contrast, some environmentalists seized on the UC Davis study as another reason to back greater water savings.

“One of the things this Davis report shows, which people in the water sector have known for a long time, is if you really want to get a handle on climate change, you can’t do it without water conservation,” said Bruce Reznick, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

The energy savings from the state’s mandatory water conservation program is likely higher than calculated because the UC Davis examination didn’t look at the electricity used to treat and dispose water once it leaves homes and businesses, Loge said.

“The actual energy saved is quite a bit greater than our analysis. Our analysis is quite conservative,” he said. “I think one of the biggest lessons for me and others in the state as we begin to think about the path forward is the real potential to invest energy efficiency money into water conservation.”

Between July and September of last year, major utilities provided incentives that reduced energy use by 459.4 gigawatt hours at a cost of roughly $173 million — through programs such as consumer rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances, lighting and heating and air-conditioning units.

Reductions in water use from homes and businesses during that same period cut the state’s energy use by 460 gigawatt hours at a cost of $44.8 million — in part attributed to rebates for turf replacement.

In 2014, the total power system for California generated about 293,268 gigawatt hours, according to the California Energy Commission.

While Brown has rolled back his emergency drought regulations in response to relatively healthy winter rains and snowfall, state regulators are now tasked with pursuing less aggressive but longer-term conservation standards.

According to new rules from the state water board, water districts will issue their own usage limits based on their ability to ensure sustainable supplies under a scenario of three more consecutive years of drought conditions.

This approach has pleased California’s water suppliers, which must grapple with fixed costs for maintaining pipes and other infrastructure regardless of dips in revenue associated with conservation efforts.

In public meetings during the past year, water managers have voiced concerns about difficulties that residents and businesses have faced due to the conservation mandate.

“I think that conservation has not come without sacrifice,” Yamada said. “I think that there’s been sacrifice across the region in terms of (people) letting their landscapes dry.”

Environmental groups have criticized state regulators for allowing the new conservation strategy, which they see as more lenient. They believe that Brown’s mandate was almost exclusively beneficial.

“To have a program that’s wildly successful and then walk away from (it), what other sector would that happen in?” Reznik said. “What business that’s making money hand over fist would say now is a good time to walk away from that? It doesn’t make any sense.”

From June 1 of last year through April, the compulsory program saved more than 423 billion gallons of water statewide.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 at 4:45 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. 

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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.”