State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Water and Energy – an Integrated Approach

In the news, electricity and resource use seems to get the most exposure – people are looking at emissions, global warming, and oil and coal dependence.  One thing that is for certain is that electricity use needs to decrease if we are to decreased our dependence on oil, our CO2 emissions, and become a greener nation.


Funny enough, one of the best ways to decrease electricity use is through water conservation efforts. Most places don’t measure how much of their electricity use goes into water, but a 2009 report calculated that Americans use approximately 13% of the total US electricity consumption, on water related efforts, including collecting, treating, and distributing water and wastewater.  These numbers are staggering when you look at the entire population of the United States, and even more impressive if you think of how the rest of the developed world could implement this saving, a huge amount of both carbon resources and water could be conserved. A 15% decrease in the amount of water used by americans  translates to a 2% decrease in energy use in the US, which is an extreamly significant decrease when the amount of power, and consequentally the amount of coal and oil used is considered. 

In a recent New York Times article, an impressive case study is shown. In the Santa Clara Valley Water District, they used financial incentives, advisory programs, and infrastructure investments to cut water consumption. These measures resulted that over 13 years, 1.42 billion kilowatt-hours were saved (which translates into financial savings of $183 million and 335,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions).  Had these savings been provided nationwide, we would have saved not only significant water and oil, but also $30 billion that could fund infrastructure improvements, water research, or invested in other projects.

When considering water issues, electricity is always considered. However, it goes both ways; when looking at electricity use and issues, water is a key factor that cannot be ignored.  The Columbia Water Center focuses on integrating all aspects of an issue, and it’s a positive step forward to see water and electricity companies doing the same thing.  The connection between water and energy is a significant one that will continue to grow in importance as resources diminish.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments