Protecting the Lifeline of the West
How Climate and Clean Energy Policies Can Safeguard Water
Good Climate Policy is Good Water Policy
Thermoelectric power plants in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah consumed an estimated 292 million gallons of water a day (MGD) in 2005 - approximately equal to the water consumed by Denver, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, combined.
In the Colorado River Basin, climate change issues could not be more pressing. The river supplies water to over 30 million people and 1.4 million acres of farmland, but an 11-year drought in the basin has left the two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, at only 55% of their total capacity.
Since it started its water conservation program in 1994, Albuquerque's water utility has saved over 136 billion gallons of water and over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Xcel Energy has invested heavily in wind power - it now has over 1200 MW of wind power on the ground in Colorado, which saves - each year - approximately 1.6 billion gallons of water.
Water is the lifeline of the West, and is essential to sustaining our people, economy, rivers, and wildlife. But climate pollution threatens the West’s already tight water supplies, and will exacerbate the challenge of meeting urban, agricultural, and environmental water needs. Federal legislation that limits greenhouse gas emissions will not only diminish the specter of a drier future, it can provide a new water supply to the parched West by freeing the vast quantities of water currently consumed by dirty forms of energy.
A new report by Western Resource Advocates and Environmental Defense Fund, "Protecting the Lifeline of the West: How Climate and Energy Policies Can Safeguard Water", illustrates why legislation is needed to curtail the risk unmitigated climate change poses to western water supplies and highlights the inextricable links between energy and water in the region.
- In the West, climate and energy policy is water policy. Our western economy has developed around a very scarce water supply. Our energy choices of the past—relying heavily on coal-fired power plants—create harmful global warming pollution, which, in turn, will exacerbate drought conditions in the region, threatening our economy, environment, and quality of life.
- We are in the midst of severe drought in the Colorado River basin, which supplies drinking water to 30 million people and millions of acres of farmland. Scientists project that droughts will be longer and more intense as climate change progresses. An 11-year drought has plagued the Colorado River, reducing storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to only 55% of capacity. And runoff in 2010 — projected to be only 63% of average — will not relieve drought conditions in the basin. The droughts of the past are on track to become the norm. In the search for new sources of water, cities and water users are developing more and more energy-intensive water supplies to move water great distances.
- Transitioning to cleaner, renewable sources of energy both protects the region from harmful climate change, and could free up additional sources of water for cities, farms, and rivers. Energy efficiency, and renewables like wind, solar photovoltaic, and geothermal power can meet energy demands, are affordable, and use no freshwater. Every western state has expansive renewable energy resources.
- Climate legislation would encourage smart water supply planning. Cities or utilities in nearly every western state has proposed building at least one expensive and energy-intensive pipeline to meet growing water needs. These new pipelines would have a large carbon footprint. In contrast, alternative water supply strategies like water conservation, water reuse, and creative leasing arrangements would minimize greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts to the environment.
The report highlights case studies of innovative solutions westerners are pioneering today – strategies that help us meet our growing water and energy demands, while protecting western communities and the environment. These case studies prove that climate change solutions can work. The report calls for a national climate policy to strengthen these efforts and accelerate the transition to a climate-friendly, energy- and water-smart economy.