Congress to Examine Link Between Energy & Water

drinking_water_creative-commonsThe U.S. Senate is starting to look harder at the nexus between energy and water. Tomorrow, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a bill introduced last week that would direct the Department of Energy to develop a roadmap for addressing the linkages between energy and water. The relationship between the two sources has been a growing concern among energy and water experts. Large amounts of water are needed to produce energy at power plants, and significant energy is used to treat and transport water to consumers. In other words, each is dependent on the other, but energy and water are rarely integrated in policy.

Peter Gleick, president of Oakland, calif.-based Pacific Insitute, a policy group, will testify before Congress tomorrow. According to excerpts of his planned testimony provided to Earth2Tech, Gleick will argue that considering energy and water together could offer substantial economic and environmental benefits.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair and ranking member of the committee, calls for in-depth research into the energy-water relationship. Besides the DOE, other government agencies would be called to conduct studies if the bill is passed. The Bureau of Reclamation would be directed to evaluate energy use in storing and delivering water from reclamation projects and identify ways to reduce energy use. The Energy Information Administration would be required to continually report on the energy consumed in water treatment and delivery. And the National Academy would be asked to study water use in the production of transportation fuels and different types of electricity generation. The work could lead to better national policies, such as those promoting the use of reclaimed water or phasing out crop subsidies that promote the wasteful use of water.

The Energy and Water Integration Act will likely meet broad support, because the top Democrat and Republican senators on the Energy Committee have introduced it together. It would then be packaged along with about a dozen other issue-focused bills into a single, larger energy legislation that could reach the Senate floor by the end of the month, according to a spokesman for the committee.

The larger energy bill could include new regulations for the oil and gas industries, energy efficiency, and a national renewable electricity standard. A draft bill for the RES is now circulating in Congress and calls for the nation’s electric utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.

“Developing new policies that integrate energy and water solutions will become increasingly vital as populations grow, environmental needs increase and a changing climate continues to affect our nation’s energy and water resources,” Sen. Bingaman said in a statement.

As is often the case around energy and water issues, California has been ahead of the curve. The California Energy Commission conducted a study in 2007 that found that water-related energy use consumes about 19 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year. Energy is consumed along the entire water value chain, including conveyance, storage, treatment, distribution and wastewater collection. The study concluded that a “major portion of the solution to water and energy efficiency is closer coordination between the water and energy sectors.” But California shouldn’t be seen as representative of the rest of the country. Two-thirds of the state’s precipitation falls in the north while two-thirds of its population resides in the south, meaning water must be transported long distances. The state is also a major agricultural producer.

The full committee will hear testimony tomorrow. In addition to Gleick, witnesses will include Carl Bauer, director of the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and Stephen Bolze, president of General Electric’s (s GE) Power and Water group.

Photo Credit Alex Anlicker, Wikimedia Commons