Monthly Archives: December 2014

Water and Energy (and toilets?)…time to renew!

In March of 2010, Gal Luft – Executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security – in his blog post, “Water Crisis, Energy Crisis, Vicious Cycle”, wrote:

“It is widely accepted that water shortage can — and most probably will — lead to military conflict, mass migration, food shortages and a host of other security challenges. What is less appreciated is the connection between water and energy and how intertwined are the energy challenge and the water challenge we are facing today globally.”

Energy alternatives have suffered a lot of bad press and have not been taken seriously. The hoax perpetrated by the conservative right (supported by the oil & gas industries) has seemed to convince many people that climate change is not real.   Fear has replaced thought once again.  The fear instilled in people that we will not get enough energy or the fear that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs once they are no longer needed to subject themselves to the life threatening jobs that require them to go deep underground to extract filthy coal.

So, forget climate change and focus on the water crisis.  While we can’t see underground to watch the aquifers being drilled deeper and deeper, the statistics of the water crisis can be seen and felt.  The droughts are at an all time high and there are numerous pictures in this country alone that can attest to the crisis.  The bathtub ring on Lake Mead is enough to curl your hair!

Lake Mead immediately upriver from Hoover Dam Photo courtesy of  J. N. Stuart
Lake Mead immediately upriver from Hoover Dam
Photo courtesy of J. N. Stuart

So, why not look at energy alternatives as a way to alleviate the water crisis?  The infographic below shows just how much solar energy saves in water over the other popular forms of energy:

Developed by One Block Off The Grid
Developed by One Block Off The Grid

The above infographic is not quite accurate if not looking at CPV.   Solar technologies do use a modest amount of water.  All kinds of thermal power plants use heat to boil water into steam, which runs a steam turbine to generate electricity.  The exhaust steam from the generator must be cooled prior to being heated again and turned back into steam.  This cooling can be done using either a wet, dry or hybrid method.  Solar thermal plants use more water than the solar photovoltaic panels.

However, a new solar thermal plant recently opened in the Mojave Desert that it utilizing dry cooling to reduce water usage to next to nothing.

Check out the water use for the various power plants below.

courtesy of Institute for Local Self Reliance
courtesy of Institute for Local Self Reliance

Finally, getting away from energy and water, below is a linkto an article that is fun at the same time amazing!  The future could bring many more ways to conserve while also contributing.  Read and enjoy “Solving the Water and Energy Crisis…in One Swell Poop”, by Gar Smith.

courtesy of
courtesy of

WATER – What are we doing?

In an effort to alleviate the droughts, we are pumping water out of the ground that can’t be replaced.  Aquifer water supplies half of our fresh water needs, but as we continue to pump it out of the ground, a looming crisis is just around the corner.

1936 South Dakota Dust Bowl
1936 South Dakota Dust Bowl – wikipedia


With the developing water crisis, what can we do or what are we doing to alleviate future devastation?  What can we do to prevent water from becoming a precious, private commodity available to the rich and scarce to the poor?

We’ve already mentioned desalination.  However, desalination has several problems:  it is very expensive; very energy use intensive; pumps pull in sea life and kill it, potentially killing entire species or ecosystems; finally, creates about half fresh water from salt water with the other half (brine) sometimes too salinated to put back and sometimes still containing chemicals.

In fact, the brine created from the desalination can contain such chemicals as chlorine, which when mixed with other chemicals can create carcinogens.  Acids are another result which can breakdown and destroy tissues in living organisms.

There are alternatives for the present way we utilize desalination, including by way of renewable energy,  better pumps and better filters.  But are there other ways to manage the water we have prior to having to use desalination?

Watershed Management

A watershed is an area in which water from different sources collects into one single place – from both above and below ground.  Usually, management of the different sources of this water is fragmented and done by different agencies or departments – some without even the scientific knowledge needed for proper management.  Watershed management is when the entire water source is managed in one place.  Plans, programs, conservation, etc are all implemented for better water use.  Water rights, conservation, quality, drainage, supply, etc are managed by teams of real scientists from disciplines such as storm water experts, environmental experts, as well surveyors and planners.

The Vermont Watershed Management Division encompasses the following:

  • Monitoring, Assessment & Planning
  • Ecosystem Restoration Program
  • Lakes & Ponds
  • Rivers
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater
  • Wetlands

Some links to learn more about watershed management:


Infrastructure – the decidedly unsexy fix

According to, 850 water main breaks occur EVERY DAY in North America.  Since 2000, we have seen over 4 million water main breaks and today alone, at 11:50 am, 423 water main breaks already occurred!

In 2014, California experienced a water main break that spewed 20 million gallons of water into the LA area.  Water main breaks are the cause of over 2.5 TRILLION gallons of fresh drinking water a year.

WTH!?  These are staggering statistics, so for god’s sake, lets fix the damn pipes!  Yes, it is an expensive and difficult fix.  Corrosion of pipes is responsible for the major number of main breaks (we’re not even going to get into what that corrosion does to our health, but you can see what one of the corroded pipes looks like and pretty much draw your own conclusions!)

"Would you drink water from this pipe"  “Would you drink water from this pipe?”

Whether we use PVC pipe or steel lined with concrete, we have got to fix the crumbling infrastructure.  Investment is doing just that is beyond most regional governments and must be the project of the federal government.  Such an investment would also create jobs and put money into individual economies.


Americans use more water than any other country on earth.   According to the United Nations Development Program – Human Development Report 2006 (updated May, 2014), Americans use over 550 litres of water per person, per day.  Australians use over 500 litres a day, and comparatively, Chinese a little over 75 litres a day and, Germany about 175 litres.

What are Americans doing with all this water?!  Basically, we are squandering it – like we do with so many other resources in this country.  Our greed and love of instant gratification leads us to use water with little regard for conservation.

Below are water calculators you can use to see where you can help.  The second link will take you to a conservation challenge, as well:

Wind & Solar – uh oh, those ugly words again!

While the debates rage on over wind and solar, in this blogger’s mind, the debate is over when we look at the sheer volume of water it takes to produce electricity.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

“Take the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls in a minute. Now triple it. That’s almost how much water power plants in the United States take in for cooling each minute, on average.”

So, next week, we look at water and energy and other things we can and are doing to help alleviate the water crisis.




WATER – 1 ton of produce needs 1,000 tons of water!

Many of us blithely go about our day thinking water scarcity is the problem of countries like Africa.  Even droughts in the US – well, as long as we alternate days using water sprinklers, we’ll be fine.

But we aren’t fine.  The dwindling fresh water supply is becoming somewhat alarming.  We need fresh water for our food supply and with an increasing population, food shortages will eventually become the norm.   California provides 50% of all US grown produce and is facing the worst drought in history.  Just as an example, California continues to plant almond farms – producing about 2 billlion lbs of almonds this year alone, roughly 3 times the amount of just 14 years ago.  Each almond takes 1.1 gallon of water to produce.  Yes, I did say EACH almond, so image 2 billion lbs of almonds!

Just to get us started, here are some remarkable statistics:

  • While 70% of the Earth is covered by water, only 3% of that water is fresh water.  And, about three quarters of all fresh water is taken up with glaciers and ice caps.   

courtesy creative commons 

  • 100 years ago, Americans used about 7 gallons of water per day.  Today, Americans use about 145 gallons of water per day.
  • 1 ton of produce requires approx 1,000 tons of water
  • Agriculture accounts for about 70% of US water pollution.
  • California’s draining aquifers have caused  parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink by 11 inches a year.
  • The Colorado River no longer runs all the way to the ocean.  Nestle is taking anywhere from 250-500 million gallons of water a year from the Colorado River Basin so it can bottle and sell its water.  In 2012, while Nestle made over $4B in water sales, the Colorado River Basin has lost over 53 million acre feet of water since 2003.  (NASA and the University of California at Irvine)
  • Desalination, while creating fresh water from salt water, only transforms about half of what is put into desalination.  The other half?  It becomes twice as salinated and can only be put back into the oceans at a safe salination level.  If it can not be returned to the ocean, it is lost.
  • A US government report states that global demand for water could actually exceed supply by an amazing 40% by only 2030.
  • “Hello Ball” (Norton in the Honeymooners) –  US golf courses use about 750 billion gallons of water per year

That is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended) of horrifying statistics.  Below is a map showing groundwater withdrawal in the last three years:

Images by J.T. Reager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, from “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” Nature Climate Change, November 2014, by James S. Famiglietti

And that is not even as horrible as the Ogalalla aquifer being used to grow corn in the high plains.  The withdrawal of this groundwater has far exceeded its ability to replenish itself.   Since 1950, the Ogalalla aquifer has lost about 9% of its acre feet.

Next week, we can look at some of the things we are starting to do to arrest this situation that could eventually be our downfall.