Water and Energy: How Congress Can Solve Two Problems at Once
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Congress now has several opportunities to further our understanding of the nexus between water and energy use and to promote water conservation efforts that can also achieve significant energy savings. A recently introduced energy and water bill combined with financial incentives in the omnibus energy bill due later this year could help the entire country enjoy the savings some states are already seeing from reductions in water use -- with a potential for job creation through water-efficient home retrofits.
In California, Santa Clara County’s experience underscores this important but often overlooked link. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Santa Clara Valley Water District got serious about water conservation. The district, which serves some 1.8 million residents and includes Silicon Valley and the city of San Jose, developed programs that encouraged residents, businesses, industries, and agricultural producers to use water more efficiently.
The results have been impressive: a savings of 370,000 acre-feet of water in 13 years. (A typical household uses one acre-foot of water per year).
But perhaps even more significant have been the energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: 1.42 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 335 million kg of carbon dioxide, which is equal to taking 72,000 cars off the road for a year.
“It has become increasingly clear that the water savings from water use efficiency programs results in significant energy savings and air quality benefits, including reductions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide,” wrote Santa Clara Valley Water District CEO Stanley M. Williams in his introduction to “ From Watts to Water,” the district’s recent report on its water conservation and energy savings efforts.
The relationship between energy and water use is beginning to get more attention as U.S. policymakers grapple with measures to transition from heavy dependence on fossil fuels and to attack global climate change by capping carbon emissions.
In early March, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009 sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill’s main emphasis is to study the impact of energy development on U.S. water resources, but it also calls on the Department of Energy to periodically assess the energy consumed in the delivery, treatment, and use of water.
In his testimony on the bill, Pacific Institute President Dr. Peter H. Gleick said: “Water use and energy use are closely linked: Energy production uses and pollutes water; water use requires significant amounts of energy. Moreover, the reality of climate change affects national policies in both areas. Limits to the availability of both energy and water are beginning to affect the other, and these limits have direct implications for U.S. economic and security interests. Yet energy and water issues are rarely integrated in policy.”
As it develops an omnibus energy bill for consideration later this year, Congress also has an opportunity to include financial incentives for consumers, businesses, and water providers to conserve water and thereby reduce energy consumption. Preliminary discussions are underway according to Senate staff.
The federal government already provides a wide array of tax credits for consumers for energy efficient home improvements including windows, doors, insulation, and water heaters. Credits are also available for renewable energy systems such as solar panels, wind systems, and geothermal heat pumps. Tax deductions are available to owners and designers of energy efficient commercial buildings.
No such program exists, however, for water conservation efforts, such as installing high-efficiency toilets, low-flow showerheads, and water-conserving clothes washers, though some water utilities provide consumers rebates for purchases of those items.