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California drought increases greenhouse gas emissions: study


California drought, coupled with population growth, is accelerating the need for energy-intensive water supply projects – increasing greenhouse gas emissions and thwarting the pace of nation-wide decarbonization efforts. State, according to a new study.

Water use, collection, treatment, and management are related to about 20 percent of California statewide electricity use, one-third of non-plant natural gas consumption and 88 billion gallons of diesel, according to the study published by the Oakland-based company. Pacific Institute and commissioned by the nonprofit think tank Next 10.

Faced with the formidable challenges of water, urban water planners are choosing to integrate new water supply technologies, such as desalination and water recycling, the researchers observed. And while these supply choices typically require less energy than transporting water over long distances, the authors said that these facilities use more energy than tapping into traditional resources, such as reservoirs and reservoirs. aquifers.

“If you think about water and energy together, then some of the decisions we make will be different,” Peter Gleick, co-founder and president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, told The Hill. “Given the climate crisis, it is important that we make smarter decisions about water and energy. “

Water and energy are “inextricably linked in California,” according to the authors, who pointed out that the State Water Project – which pumps northern California water over long distances – is the largest consumer of water. state electricity. Such interdependencies mean that “when one resource faces constraints or challenges, so does the other”, in a relationship known as the “water-energy nexus”.

Although declining groundwater levels have made pumping water more energy-intensive in the agricultural sector, the report found that increasing urban water demand has a greater impact on electricity consumption in the city. the state – urban water being about twice as energy intensive as agricultural water.

As such, efforts to improve the efficiency of urban water use would have the greatest impact on water-related greenhouse gas emissions in California, according to the authors. Failure to make such improvements would lead to a 24% increase in urban water demand between 2015 and 2035, resulting in a 21% increase in annual water-related electricity consumption and a 25% increase in consumption. of natural gas, according to the study. find.

“When we save water, we also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr. Julia Szinai, lead author of the report and researcher at the Pacific Institute, said in a press release. “The importance of water conservation measures to meeting California’s climate goals should not be underestimated, especially as drought and water scarcity intensify with climate change.”

These measures are so crucial, according to the authors, that implementing comprehensive water conservation and efficiency strategies could facilitate a 19% reduction in water-related electricity consumption between 2015 and 2035. , a 16% reduction in natural gas consumption and a 41% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The good news here is that the solutions that deliver the best climate outcomes are almost always the best economic and environmental solutions as well,” Gleick told The Hill.

Some of the solutions recommended by the authors include the electrification of water heaters, which is the most energy-intensive end use of water and still occurs today largely thanks to natural gas water heaters.

They also advised installing more efficient groundwater pumps and offering financial incentives to water providers to invest in more energy-efficient systems. In addition, they suggested standardizing the reporting of water data and monitoring associated energy consumption, as well as formalizing coordination between water and energy agencies.

Another energy-intensive end use, wastewater treatment – which uses nearly 1% of the country’s electricity – could become cleaner by capturing the gas from decomposing waste and using it to power the facility, have added the authors. The East Bay Municipal Utility District processing plant, for example, generates more renewable energy than is needed on-site, and therefore sells the surplus back to the grid.

If energy-intensive technologies such as water recycling or desalination are to remain in the landscape of a region’s water supply, officials must work to decarbonize the network – with the ultimate goal of ” changing the energy system itself ”alongside strong conservation policies, according to Gleick.

“Almost everywhere in the country, smarter conservation and efficiency is by far the best option to pursue,” he said. “Every gallon of hot water that you don’t have to use because your washing machine or dishwasher is more efficient is a gallon of water that you don’t have to provide and energy that you don’t. do not have to provide. “