Leadership with Water-Energy Nexus?


In our prior blog discussions the theme has been leadership.  Vision is needed from leaders.  In the water industry that vision has to do with sustainability in light of competing interests for water supplies, completion for funds, maintaining infrastructure and communicating the importance of water to customers.  The need to fully to optimize management of water resources has been identified.  The argument goes like this.  Changes to the terrestrial surface decrease available recharge to groundwater and increase runoff.  Urbanization increases runoff due to imperviousness from buildings, parking lots, and roads and highways that replace forest or grassland cover, leading to runoff at a faster rate (flooding) and the inability to capture the water as easily.  In rural areas, increased evapotranspiration (ET) is observed in areas with large-scale irrigation, which lowers runoff and alters regional precipitation patterns. At the same time there are four competing sectors for water:  agriculture (40% in the US), power (39% in the US), urban uses (12.7%) and other.  Note the ecosystem is not considered.

New water supplies often have lesser quality than existing supplies, simply because users try to pick the best water that minimizes treatment requirements. But where water supplies and/or water quality is limited, energy demands rise, often to treat that water as well as serve new customers. For many non-industrial communities, the local water and wastewater treatment facilities are among the largest power users in a community.  Confounding the situation is trying to site communities where there is not water because the power industry needs water and the residents will need water.  It is a viscous cycle.  When you have limited water supplies, that means your development should be limited.  Your population and commercial growth cannot exceed the carrying capacity of the water supply, or eventually, you will run out.  Drawing water from more distant place can work for a time, but what is the long-term impact.  Remember the Colorado River no longer meets the ocean.  Likewise the Rio Grande is a trickle when it hits the Gulf of Mexico  As engineers, we can be pretty creative in coming up with ways to transfer water, but few ask if it is a good idea.

Likewise we can come up with solutions to treat water that otherwise could not be drunk, but, that may not always be the best of ideas. Adding to the challenge is that planning by drinking water, wastewater, and electric utilities occurs separately and is not integrated. Both sectors need to manage supplies for changes in demands throughout the year, but because they are planned for and managed separately, their production and use are often at the expense of the natural environment.  Conflicts will inevitably occur because separate planning occurs (for a multitude of reasons, including tradition, regulatory limitations, ease, location, limited organizational resources, governance structure, and mandated requirements). However, as demands for limited water resources continue to grow in places that are water limited, and as pressures on financial resources increase, there are benefits and synergies that can be realized from integrated planning for both water and electric utilities and for their respective stakeholders and communities. The link between energy and water is important – water efficiency can provide a large savings for consumers and the utility.   As a result, there is a need to move toward long-term, integrated processes, in which these resources are recognized as all being interconnected .  Only then can the challenges to fully to optimize management of water resources for all purposes be identified.

Anybody have any good examples out there?

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