September 2015
Volume 2, Issue 7

With global warming a likely cuplrit, California is facing record drought.  California grows two-thirds of our nation's produce, including 94% of our canned tomatoes, 84% of our fresh peaches, 95% of our fresh plums, 99% of our artichokes, and 94% of our broccoli. With all that food grown in the Golden State, agriculture (moreso, animal agriculture) uses the majority of the state's water.

Nationally, however, power plants are the largest culprit, using huge volumes of water to cool nuclear and combustion power processes. It's ironic that the largest causes of global warming (animal agriculture, followed by the energy sector) are causing the droughts that will undermine our unsustainable energy and agriculture systems. In the past decade, there have been many instances where nuclear power plants have to scale back production or close on the hottest days of the year (when power is most needed for high demand from air conditioning) because they can't cool themselves with river and lake water that is already too hot.

It's not just the power plants, either. As our shalefield organizer discusses in the last article below, every stage of fracking for shale gas uses or contaminates water supplies. Same can be said for the lifecycle of nuclear, coal, oil and biomass/biofuels.

With fresh water use an increasing concern, some companies we've been fighting, such as the nation's largest trash incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania, and the gas-fired power plant proposed in Brandywine, Maryland, are turning to use sewage effluent for cooling water, introducing contaminants into the air.  The need for a reduction in our energy consumption, a transition to wind and solar, and a focus on local, plant-based, regenerative organic agriculture could not be more clear.


‚ÄčElectricity Generation #1 Use of Freshwater in U.S.

Sucking up 161 billion gallons per day, electricity generating facilities were the single biggest consumers of fresh water in the U.S. in 2010, followed by irrigation for agriculture at 115 billion gallons, according to the United States Geological Service (USGS) [see sidebar].

Energy sources consume varying amounts of water, based on measurements from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the California Energy Commission.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory says hydroelectric plants are the biggest consumers of water, at 1,425 - 18,000 gallons per Megawatt Hour (MWh), which is a measurement of 1,000 kilowatts of electricity used continuously for one hour. Flash geothermal uses 2,067 - 3,100 gal/MWh, concentrated solar power thermal is at 725 - 1,057 gal/MWh, and steam natural gas follows at 662 - 1,170 gal/MWh. Nuclear clocks in at 581 - 845 gal/MWh, generic coal at 480 - 1,100 gal/MWh, biopower at 480 - 965 gal/MWh, generic solar at 0 - 33 gal/Mwh, and wind at 0 - 1 gal/MWh

Nuclear power consumes over 800 gal/MWh, according to the Electric Power Research Institute [see chart below]. Second place is tied by biofuels, solar thermal, and coal, at just over 700 gallons per gal/MWh, while third is gas and oil at 600 gal/MWh.

The California Energy Commission tallies steam-cycle natural gas at 760 - 1,170 gal/MWh, 676 - 1,380 gal/MWh for combined cycle natural gas, 960 - 1,120 gal/MWh for parabolic trough solar thermal, 760 - 1,170 gal/MWh for biomass power, 80 - 830 gal/MWh for landfill gas, 8 - 30 gal/MWh for geothermal, and 4 - 6 gal/MWh for stirling solar thermal. 


Energy's Water Footprint

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

In 2005, thermoelectric power plants (nuclear, coal, oil, gas and trash/biomass incinerators) were responsible for 41% of all freshwater withdrawals and 49% of total water withdrawals (including oceans and brackish waters) in the U.S. Much of this water (mainly used for cooling) is returned to local water bodies, but at a higher temperature, which can be harmful to aquatic life. A large portion is also evaporated, so total water consumption is still quite significant. 

These thermoelectric power plants consume an average of 800 gallons per Megawatt Hour, ranging from 600 to 1,100 gal/MWh. This means that a 500 megawatt power plant running at 90% capacity would use 2.4 to 4.4 billion gallons of water each year for cooling. About 85% of this is evaporated, draining rivers and aquifers. The balance is returned to the river as a heated solution containing concentrated pollutants like aluminum and phosphorus. Some power plants and trash/biomass incinerators have sought to use sewage effluent (the liquids that are separated out at a sewage treatment plant) as cooling water.

Sewage effluent is a highly contaminated solution containing disinfection byproducts, metals and numerous classes of discarded and excreted biologically active chemicals such as active pharmaceutical ingredients and personal care products, endocrine disrupting compounds, mutagenic cytotoxins and others. These pollutants can contaminate the air when that water is evaporated. Whatever isn't evaporated will concentrated in the wastewater that the biomass facilities release into local water bodies. 

Growing crop-based biomass also requires a lot of water. The biomass industry favors trees and wood waste it doesn't have to grow, but of the available energy crops, quick-growing, high-yield plants like Miscanthus are preferred. Such crops are also quite demanding. A review of the Miscanthus-burning biomass incinerator proposed for Jasper, Indiana found that Miscanthus is a thirsty crop, requiring irrigation in areas like Southern Indiana, where rainfall is insufficient and global warming is worsening droughts. 



Water Abuse in the Fracking Process

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network

Water is used in shale gas development from cradle to grave, however, most people don't think about it beyond the issues of groundwater contamination.

Procuring and bringing raw materials like silica sand, steel, cement, and fracking chemicals to the well locations requires an incredible amount of manufacturing, transportation, and plant fuel, which are water intensive fuels to produce. 

Each well requires 5-9 million gallons of water to be fracked. Water is also used to create oil-based drilling muds that are injected downhole when the well is first drilled to lubricate the drill bit. For pipelines, the most prevalent way infrastructure is tested for integrity is hydrostatic testing, where water is used to pressurize the lines and test for leaks. 

Water withdrawals are approved by states and in some cases by federal river commissions. Because the water is combined with fracking fluid, sand, chemicals, and underground contaminants, much of it never returns to the water cycle. In fact, between 50 to 80 percent of the water used in fracking remains deep underground, forever entombed.

In 2012, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, comprised of governors' representatives from PA, MD, and New York, as well as the White House, approved a three million gallon per day water withdrawal in Jersey Shore, PA that required the removal and relocation of 32 mobile home resident families.


Energy Justice Now provides critical reporting on the full spectrum of the Dirty Energy Resistance, highlighting the voices of community organizers battling fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass and waste incineration from sea to shining sea.

We are accepting submissions at Josh AT energyjustice DOT net.

Check out our archive of back issues of Energy Justice Now.

In Solidarity,

Mike, Josh, and Samantha 

Editors, Energy Justice Now

Please donate and join Energy Justice Network.


Drinking the Forest

Lillian Falls xix.jpg

180 million people source their drinking water from forests, 66 percent of the nation's fresh water, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Studies show that the most effective and cheapest way to protect water supplies is to let forests grow. Tree root systems keep soil porous, ensuring proper filtration of water, which reduces toxics, sediments, and other substances from entering water supplies. 

Water utilities spend 19 times more to chemically treat water than it costs to protect rivers and lakes through conservation, according to the Center for Watershed Protection.

For instance, instead of New York City building a brand new $8-10 billion wastewater treatment plant, they spent $1.5 billion to protect the forests where their water originates. 

The generation of biomass energy can result in the cutting and burning of forests, further degrading precious water reserves. 

 Every Drop Counts



- by Western Resource Advocates

Most electric utilities and state and federal regulators do not adequately consider the value of the large volumes of water power plants consume. Electric utilities typically appropriate or purchase water rights for new thermoelectric power plants, but the cost of these water rights does not reflect the opportunity cost of water use over the life of the power plant -- 40 to 50 years or longer. And increasingly, existing and proposed power plants compete directly with water demands for growing food, providing for growing urban areas, and sustaining the West's rivers and streams.

In "Every Drop Counts, Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity," Western Resource Advocates analyzed the prices paid for water by the three different sectors -- municipal, agricultural, and environmental -- that compete with power plants for scarce water supplies. In addition, we assess the authority and practice of regulators across six states to consider water in evaluating utilities' electric resource plans. We found that, across the region, the degree to which water influences regulators' and utilities' electric resource planning decisions varies significantly.


Thirsty Cows


This clip from the film "Cowspiracy" explains how a single hamburger requires a whopping 660 gallons of water to produce.

It also shows how a government website's suggestions to lower one's water footprint, by doing such things as using low-flow shower heads, taking shorter showers, fixing leaking faucets, and installing energy efficient toilets and washing machines, adds up to a mere 47 gallons of water saved per day. Meanwhile, doing without a single hamburger would save over 14 times as much water a day. 

Obviously, all our food requires energy and water. The consumption of meat, however, requires the most of both. When government and environmental groups impress on us the importance of saving water, yet ignore the two largest consumers of water -- industrial scale energy and industrial scale agriculture -- it's going to be very difficult for us to make meaningful strides towards water conservation.

If you're not quite ready to give up meat, don't fret. has launched a grassroots campaign to make up for the massive quantities of water consumed by the meat industry.

According to their calculations, it requires 1,800 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. Therefore, for every 4 oz. of hamburger you eat, all you have to do is skip 37 showers to make up for it. ;)