Idaho rivers activist Wendy Wilson has spent the last year work on a national study of the use of water in electric energy production.
What the woman who founded Idaho Rivers United and once led the Idaho Conservation League discovered is that the energy grid we have today is very water intensive. She estimated that in 2009 more than 40,000 gallons of water was used, polluted or consumer per megawatt hour of generation nationally.
She’s not looking simply at water in the traditional hydropower sense so important to river advocates here. Instead Wilson looked into how much water is used, polluted and lost per megawatt hour in all plants including thermo plants cooled with water.
“Basically I found that the water use associated with electricity is not being consistently accounted for, monitored, or planned for,” Wilson said. “ Inconsistent water-use reports are collected by the federal government for thermoelectric, but not hydropower, and there is little to no actual monitoring of water use for electrical production.”
The impacts of constrained water supply show up every day on the rivers and waterways of America as algae blooms, coal ash spills, depleted river flows and endangered salmon, Wilson said. That doesn’t even consider the potential for running out of water during extended droughts.
“What we found is that the water agencies and the energy producers operate in two different spheres,” Wilson said, “with essentially no discussion of the Energy-Return-for-Water-Invested equation.”
What her group wants is a better way of evaluating the societal costs of using freshwater resources for energy.
“Eliminating ‘once-through’ cooling and increasing low-water renewables to 40% of the grid would allow us to generate the same amount of energy with 80% less water,” Wilson said.
You can read that findings at the Burning Our Rivers report