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Water and Energy Demands are on a Collision Course

by Magnifico Sat Mar 22nd, 2008 at 11:54:45 AM EST

Water is essential for life.

Houptoun Falls

But, America and much of the rest of the world is running short of clean, freshwater.

Diary rescue by Migeru

The future is drying up in much of the United States reported The New York Times last October. "Water tables all over the United States have been dropping, sometimes drastically, from overuse. In the Denver area, some cities that use only groundwater will almost certainly exhaust their accessible supplies by 2050." Drought hit hard the Southeast this fall and before the winter rains came, the residents of Atlanta were less than 90-days away from exhausting the city's freshwater supply.

Adding to the drought-caused strain on America's water supply, is the country's increasing energy demands. McClatchy Newspapers reports that America's Energy and water demands are on collision course. "It takes a lot of water to produce energy. It takes a lot of energy to provide water. The two are inextricably linked, and claims on each are rising."

These claims are not just of the type people living in the Pacific Northwest are used to hearing of where hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest are causing the extinction of salmon, but water is also needed for nearly all energy production.

As the McClatchy story explains

"The water supply is as critical as oil," said Charles Groat, a geologist and expert on the problem at the University of Texas in Austin.

In return, "water use requires a tremendous amount of energy," said Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland, Calif.

As the United States tries to lower its dependence on foreign oil by producing more energy from domestic sources such as ethanol, however, it's running low on fresh water.

Water is needed for mining coal, drilling for oil, refining gasoline, generating and distributing electricity, and disposing of waste, Gleick said.

"The largest use of water is to cool power plants," he said at a panel of experts on "The Global Nexus of Energy and Water" in Boston last month.

Water shortages can force nuclear power plants to shutdown. For example:

Nuclear plants are subject to restrictions on the temperature of the discharged coolant, because hot water quickly evaporates and can also kill fish or plants or otherwise disrupt the environment. Those restrictions, coupled with the drought, led to the one-day shutdown August 16 of a TVA reactor at Browns Ferry in Alabama.

The water was low on the Tennessee River and had become warmer than usual under the hot sun. By the time it had been pumped through the Browns Ferry plant, it had become hotter still -- too hot to release back into the river, according to the TVA. So the utility shut down a reactor.

Water essential to make energyBiodiesel and ethanol are increasing the demands on America's freshwater resources and that will exacerbate the country's water shortages. The McClatchy story quotes Michael Webber, a mechanical engineer and researcher at the University of Texas in Austin as explaining "driving one mile on ethanol consumes 600 gallons of water to irrigate the corn from which it's made... Even plug-in hybrids, which are touted as the most efficient way to power electric cars, need to withdraw 10 gallons of water for every mile traveled".

Even if the United States had enough water to make all the biodiesel and ethanol it needed, there still is a pollution problem to solve with these fuels' production. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Alabama's first biodiesel plant was polluting the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa with an "oily sheen" that "resembled Italian salad dressing". This pollution is called a byproduct of a 'clean' fuel.

The day before, the Associated Press published the results of their probe that found drugs in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas in the United States. "A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans." Not only are pharmaceuticals tainting our water, but the pesticides and herbicides like Atrazine our agriculture uses to grow corn and soybeans, which we use to make ethanol and biodiesel, are also polluting our limited suppy of freshwater.

The McClatchy article explains "vast amounts of energy are needed to pump, transport, treat and distribute water." It's a vicious cycle, lots of energy is needed to provide water and lots of water is needed to produce energy. On top of that, the heating of water is a "greedy consumer of energy". The United States is already a huge consumer of energy. "America currently uses one-quarter of the world's oil supply, the most of any country in the world." In addition, "coal is used to generate more than half of the electricity in the U.S." According to the National Geographic, "Nearly 90 percent of the world's energy consumption is through fossil fuel, which produces carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned."

America is constrained by limited water and energy sources. Today, as the United States occupies oil-rich Iraq, getting clean water to American troops is a challenge. For example, KBR, the private military contractor, supplied American bases in Iraq with polluted hygiene and laundry water that made U.S. troops sick. But the war for Iraq was not fought for the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, but Iraq's oil. According to the Council of Foreign Relations and others, "In 2001 Iraq's proven oil reserves were estimated to be around 115 billion barrels, making them the world's third largest after Saudi Arabia's and Canada's."

The largest surface body of freshwater is the Great Lakes shared between the United States and Canada. Environment Canada states "Canada has 7% of the world's renewable supply of freshwater and 20% of the world's total freshwater resources (including waters captured in glaciers and the polar ice caps)." According to the Atlas of Canada, just the Northwest Territories and Nunavut alone, "contains 9.2% of the world's total freshwater".

Canada is "a freshwater-rich country". Each year, "Canadian rivers discharge close to 9% of the world's renewable water supply, while Canada has less than 1% of the world's population." Being rich with oil and water makes Canada well-positioned for the challenges of energy and water in the 21st century. But, sitting atop of all that oil and freshwater could be why some Canadians are concerned that the U.S. and Canada signed an agreement that allows troops to cross over the U.S.-Canadian border in case of "an emergency".

Already water shortages contribute to the causation of wars in Africa. Last June, The Guardian reported that a United Nations report warned that the Darfur conflict heralds era of wars triggered by climate change and that "with rainfall down by up to 30% over 40 years and the Sahara advancing by well over a mile every year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes threaten to reignite the half-century war between north and south Sudan, held at bay by a precarious 2005 peace accord."

In November, The Observer reported that Climate wars threaten billions of people and more than "100 countries face political chaos and mass migration in global warming catastrophe". In the Americas, Peru gets most of its freshwater "from glacier meltwater. But by 2015 nearly all Peru's glaciers will have been removed by global warming and its 27 million people will nearly all lack fresh water." And "In Africa, rivers such as the Niger and Monu are key freshwater resources passing through many nations. As droughts worsen and more water is extracted from them conflicts will be inevitable."

Just this past week, The Guardian reported that the European Union was told to prepare for flood of climate change migrants. So, if freshwater shortages happen in South America, then I believe the United States could see climate change migrants heading north to its border shared with Mexico.

I think oil was the most valuable resource of the 20th century. The Bush administration lied the nation into war to secure the last century's treasure. While oil is still essential to America's economy, this century's future wars seem destined to be fought over freshwater. The Republicans' solution appears to be to privatize water. For example last March, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted a conference to promote privatization of water. If freshwater, essential to life, is becoming increasingly scarce and valuable, then the Republican solution is to make sure someone will make a profit.

In October 2006, Prensa Latina, Cuba's state-run news agency, reported of George W. Bush's alleged Paraguay "land grab". They reported that Bush purchased nearly 98,840 acres of land near Chaco, in northern Paraguay. The Guardian noted that "some have speculated that he might be trying to wrestle control of the Guarani Aquifer, one of the largest underground water reserves, from the Paraguayans." Nearby the acreage is Mariscal Estigarribia, an airport and an alleged U.S. military base used in 2005 and 2006.

The nexus between energy and water can be as simple to see as the challenge of supplying clean water to soldiers in Iraq or as complex as the relationship of the energy-water-energy production/supply relationship explained in the McClatchy article. The pressures on energy and water and food continue to grow.

So, I think it comes to this: the nations of the world, not just the United States, must acknowledge the connection between energy, food, and freshwater and then manage the growing demands on these finite resources intelligently to prevent famine and wars.

That's good, but unlikely, on an international level, but on an individual level I think we need to make changes too. In the McClatchy story, Peter Gleick observed that "Running a hot water faucet for five minutes is the equivalent of burning a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours... Maybe the best way to save energy is to save hot water." I think he's right. We need to reduce our energy dependence. We need to become energy and water conservatives.

This diary is mostly collecting my thoughts on the recent water-related stories in the news of late. It formed up into a decent enough diary, so I thought I'd share. I've cross-posted at Daily Kos and elsewhere.
by Magnifico on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 02:07:45 AM EST
Excellent diary, really informative.  Somewhat depressing though because Governments don't prioritise the right things and nor do they look around them to see where the connections are made.

We'll build more nuclear power stations and swap our energy crisis for a water crisis which will bring back the energy crisis again.

The bottom line is that we are well on the way to exhausting the earth's resources and nobody with power is going to be willing to make the brave decisions to keep it from accelerating at the rate it is.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 22nd, 2008 at 12:28:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's worth highlighting that the world is running out of freshwater. It's a problem in Souterhn Europe too. After all, the Sahara is beginning to cross the Mediterranean.

I wish I could find out whether the Spanish water tables are dropping but, given their chronic waste on golf courses and greenhouse crops, I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't dropping like a stone.

Europe bracing itself for climate migration eh ? The thing that's strange about migrants is that they travel all through europe and then claim asylum in the UK, which is odd cos ours is just about the most restricted asylum scheme in europe. Most of europe is empty and clamouring for economically active participants, but they come to the one country where they're neither needed nor wanted, tis very strange.

If it all gets nasty, Ireland or Scotland can always be relied upon to be wet an horrible.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 01:32:46 PM EST
Excellent! I hope it gets rescued, because it needs to be seen and discussed.

Related story: in 1968 G.H.W. Bush and his Houston buddies tried to float a several $billion bond in Texas to create The Texas Water Plan. (It failed - barely.) Their idea was to pump water uphill from the Mississippi River through Arkansas and northern Texas to West Texas. The plan was put together by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the prime contractor would have been Brown & Root (recognize those entities?). The ostensible purpose was to irrigate land - presumably for cotton production, because, by this time, cotton had moved in that direction.

I was on the staff of The Rag in Austin, and this bond issue piqued my curiosity. I started researching and found some interesting information, plus commentaries. First, West Texas was the southern extent of the Ogalalla (sp? it's been a long time) Aquifer, which extends right up through the heartland of the Midwest. According to the reports that I read, West Texas had been a grassland, similar to the rest of the Great Plains as recently as the late 1800s. Settlers and towns commonly dug wells that produced at 40 feet. By the 1960s the average depth of wells had become more than 400 feet.

Irrigation had never played a large role in West Texas agriculture. It was all about grassland cattle-ranching. The towns and cities were not densely situated or densely populated. The main use of water there was to: 1) drill oil wells; 2) pressurize oil wells after the initial gas pressure had subsided; and 3) to 'mine' elemental sulfur deposits at the tops of underground 'salt domes'. (Water was superheated and pumped into the sulfur deposits, which melted and came back up with the water. Then the sulfur/water was pumped out onto the ground, where the water evaporated, leaving the sulfur.

Last year or so, Boone Pickens announced that he was going to try to organize financing to 'mine' water from West Texas to sell to the cities of Texas for municipal use. Apparently, since oil and sulfur have been essentially tapped out there since the '70s, everyone got used to the new ecology of West Texas and the equilibrated level of the acquifer. So far, his scheme doesn't seem to have attracted much support, but it still says something that such people can think readily in terms of decimating this resource further in support of waste.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Sun Mar 16th, 2008 at 11:52:57 AM EST
This is one aspect of several contributing trends to a "tipping point" of the proportion of the human population to the resources consumed by that population.

Starting with the thinking of Malthus the Belgium mathematician Pierre Francois Verhulst developed the Verhulst  Equation:

which was generalized and simplified by the American Robert May, who renamed it to the Logistic Equation:

x² = λx(1-x)


x is the starting population
x² is new population after  ...
λ as the rate of increase of that population, including, though abstracted, the resources consumed to sustain the population and its increase

and (1-x) makes it a proportion, a percentage - if you will, of the population and the resources needed to sustain that population.

The advantage to the generalization is it limits the quantification of λ to less than 4 making it easier to crank the machinery around.  

As Dr. May ran the numbers things went linear until λ reached 3 and all of sudden the system developed two stable points.  At 3.5 the system exhibited four stable points. At 3.56 the system developed eight stable points.  As the value increased the stable points went to sixteen, then thirty-two, and kept on increasing until at 3.569946 the system went gonzo-weird (r is λ in this graph):

and there weren't any stable points.  The relation of x to x² broke down and became unpredictable or, put another way, there was no relation between a population, its rate of increase, and the size of the next generation of that population, although there is a strong tendency for the population to decrease.

As was stated above, the resources consumed by the population is included in λ.  Thus, restriction of supply, to a generation, of resources increases λ.  

In a finite world - like our little globe - the various Peaks: Oil, Water, Agricultural productivity, fish stocks, Ability-to-Borrow, Willingness-to-Lend, & etc, contribute to an increase in resource utilization and, thus, increase λ.

Even a dramatic die-off does not necessarily imply a decrease in λ.  In fact, it is possible for the population to suffer a catastrophic loss of numbers and for λ to increase.  Scenario: resource wars go nuclear, mega-death follows but the oil fields, say, are turned into radioactive 'no-go' areas removing them from the resource inventory.

Ok.  The 'sound-bite' here is:

We, whoever 'we' are, is to affect a decrease in λ both on a global and local level and scale.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Mar 22nd, 2008 at 02:17:57 PM EST
Let me nitpick you on the set-up.

Starting with the thinking of Malthus the Belgium mathematician Pierre Francois Verhulst developed the Verhulst  Equation:

which was generalized and simplified by the American Robert May, who renamed it to the Logistic Equation:

x² = λx(1-x)


x is the starting population
x² is new population after  ...
λ as the rate of increase of that population, including, though abstracted, the resources consumed to sustain the population and its increase.

If the logistic equation follows from the Velhust equation as a discretization of a differential equation, with appropriate choices of the units of population and time, then lambda does not include "the resources consumed to sustain the population and its increase".

Write the Velhust equation as

dP = r P (1 - P/K) dt

Where K is where the resources needed to sustain the population come in, in the form of an "equilibrium population size"; r is the vegetative growth rate when resources are plentiful (therefore r is resource-independent); and dt is the time step involved in discretization of the differential equation. This means

P' - P  = r P (1 - P/K) dt

P' = P (1 + r - rP/K) dt

P' = (1 + r)dt P {1 - rP/[(1 + r)K]} dt

If you choose (1 + 1/r)K as the unit of population, setting P = x(1 + 1/r)K, you get
x' = (1 + r)dt x (1 - x)

and so
λ = (1 + r)dt

has more to do with the discretization of the Velhust equation than it does with the resource use.

Put this way, the λ = 3 bifurcation point indicates the point at which the discretization is too coarse to faithfully represent the Velhust equation.

Of course, in reality the logic of the model goes the other way: the logistic equation comes first and the Velhust equation is a continuum approximation to it, valid only if λ < 3.

But, in any case, the point about λ stands: the "resources" are implicit in the units of x, and λ has to do with the vegetative growth rate when the population is small and resources are not a constraint and so is resource-independent.

It'd be nice if the battle were only against the right wingers, not half of the left on top of that — François in Paris

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 1st, 2008 at 09:50:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gah, most of the formulas are wrong: for the correct ones remove dt and then replace r with r dt

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 6th, 2008 at 05:26:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for awhile, every so often, I write about what I consider to the key trinity of "peak":  peak oil, peak global capacity to absorb CO2 safely (GW+), peak water.  My primary focus, obviously, has been on the first two, with only the random foray into the third -- but it is rather terrifying to conceive, about how we are emptying acquifers around the world, implications for billions when glaciers are melted out, etc ...

Now, there are 'renewable' ways for desalinization.  (See, for example, Desalinization and Renewable Power Generation: Does-it-get-better-than-that?.) This suggests that if we can "solve" Peak Oil/energy crunch and deal with Global Warming, water might be 'solved' along the way.

Now, when we consider Greenland melting, should we be trying to green deserts / provide potable water with this melting ice?

Finally, there is the entire related question of sanitation.  Nice piece by Revkin the other day:  http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/26-billion-with-no-place-to-go-to-the-toilet/

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Mar 23rd, 2008 at 09:38:03 AM EST
No way.  Lake Allatoona is back up to its normal level -- a bit above, actually -- while Lanier is rising again, so no more water shortages in Atlanta.  It serves as a wonderful example of, as Mig calls it, "Da Powah of Prayah."

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Mar 23rd, 2008 at 12:46:35 PM EST

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