Energy and water are the same thing

28 12 2009

The Placemaking Institute has gleaned that, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States uses 47% of all its water to produce energy; moving water through the nation’s extensive dam and canal system alone requires huge amounts of energy. For example, the Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile diversion canal that diverts Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, 43% of the 2010 operating budget is expected to go towards buying energy. As such, our Most Senior Fellow ensues the following roundtable discussion:

Kevin Ferguson: “It has long been an axiom of infrastructure planning that it takes a lot of water to make electricity, and a lot of electricity to make water. Each day, for example, the nation’s thermoelectric power plants (90 percent of all power plants in the United States), draw 136 billion gallons of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to cool the steam used to drive turbines, according to the Department of Energy. In recent years, the energy department says, plans for new power plants had to be scrapped because water-use permits could not be obtained. For their part, water- and wastewater utilities consume at least 13 percent of the electricity drawn nationwide each day.”

Nate Berg: “With the one arm he had left after fighting for the Union during the Civil War, John Wesley Powell led a team of 10 men and four boats on what was likely the most extreme and adventurous fact-finding mission since Lewis and Clark stumbled upon the West Coast of North America. It was 1869, and…as the Homestead Act was pushing farmers westward and checkerboarding the uninhabited territories, Powell compiled his experiences exploring the rivers and lands of the western U.S. into a report and presented it to Congress in 1875. He advised an almost complete halt to the settlement of the West, suggesting that the western U.S. wouldn’t be able to support agriculture without extensive irrigation, and that without a more scientifically-based distribution of water rights, any further settlement would lead to devastation. Watersheds, he said, should define the location and extent of land settlement. Congress summarily dismissed his suggestions. Instead, the country was taken into a century-long binge of engineering projects to command and control the rivers of the Western United States – corralling and contorting wild rivers to meet the needs of the growing west and, in many cases, dictating how and where it would grow.”

Bradley Udall (director of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment): “All water planning in the 20th Century was based on this idea of stationality – that you could use the water flow patterns of the past to predict the future. That’s not a solution we’re going to rely on in the 21st Century.”

Deanna Archuleta (U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary): “You will never see another federal dam.”

Michael Ogden (founding director of the design, engineering and management firm Natural Systems International): “It’s all water. You can’t separate them. Whenever you think about a project, you’ve got to think about all three – rain, potable water and wastewater.”

Shaun McKinnon: “Water users from the seven Colorado River states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) are expected to ratify a regional drought plan this week in Las Vegas, ending years of bickering over how to balance uncertain resources with growing demand. The heart of the plan is the heart of the river system, its two largest reservoirs along Arizona’s northern borders. Lake Powell and Lake Mead hold not only the water needed to survive long dry periods but also the key to a landmark deal meant to give the states a chance to find longer-lasting solutions…(They) had never written a drought plan because they never needed one. The region survived a severe dry stretch in the 1950s, before growth pushed up demand. And when a string of wet years followed, the states instead adopted rules to manage surplus water. Almost before those rules took effect, drought hit again. Faced with potential shortages and threats from the Interior secretary to impose a federal solution, water users started talking about what happens if the river can’t supply demands. Until now, separate rules governed the way water flowed from Lake Powell – which was built to benefit Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – into Lake Mead, which stores water for Arizona, California and Nevada.”

Kirk Johnson: “Who owns the sky, anyway? In most of the country, that is a question for philosophy class or bad poetry. In the West, lawyers parse it with straight faces and serious intent. The result, especially stark here in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is a crazy quilt of rules and regulations. Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally.”

Elgin Courier: “According to a press release from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, drought losses for Texas crop and livestock producers has reached $3.6 billion and could exceed $4.1 billion by the end of the year. The service also reported that livestock losses have topped $974 million since November of 2008, an increase of more than $400 million since March, 2009. In one week’s time recently, 12,000 head of cattle were either sold or taken out of the county to sell or moved to another pasture from Bastrop, Lee, Caldwell and Williamson counties…If you take 12,000 head of cattle out of these counties, there is a big reduction in production and these were not cull cattle. Cattle were culled in April — these were pairs that were left…In 14 or 15 months, there can be a $50 million economic loss, which compares to losses in a flood.”

Ellen Goodman: “I am not the only one who looks at lawns — including my own — as a populist enemy. The low grassy surface has its roots in the English aristocracy, among folks who had so much food and land they didn’t have to farm it, they only had to display it. Today, lawns cover 40 million acres, making them the largest agricultural sector in America. They consume 270 billion gallons of water a week, or enough for 81 million acres of organic vegetables. They suck up $40 billion a year on seed, sod and chemicals, leading one historian to compare them to ‘a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.'”

Fritz Haeg (creator of the Edible Estates project): “It’s actually devouring resources and polluting and happening in the most visible parts of our community — the vacant land between the house and the street.”

Walter Molony (a senior public affairs real estate specialist): “I think it’s safe to say that by far the lion’s share of new homes have lawns. It would be a small, single-digit percentage that do not.”

Ann Croissant (founder and president of the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy): “We need a hydrologist at every design table.”

SYNLawn!

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