This summer the country experienced its most widespread drought in 60 years. The nation was hit by triple-digit temperatures and reduced rainfall. The drought affected not only farmers, whose crops were damaged and livestock was threatened, but also the energy system.
The energy system is highly dependent on water and uses even more than the agriculture sector. About half of the water the United States uses daily is solely for cooling power plants.
This connection has already proved problematic. In 2008 power plants came within days of shutting down due to lack of water when a drought struck the Southeast. Additionally, reduced water levels behind dams in the West have lowered energy output and famers in the Midwest must compete against power plants for much needed water.
As per capita consumption increases and global climate change causes more periods of drought, the energy system’s reliance on water will become even more dangerous. The United States should implement a number of solutions in order to alleviate the strain on the limited supply of water and ensure that the energy system is stable and reliable.
The most important and simplest solution is conservation. This applies to both household and agricultural use. Individual households can conserve in many ways from using low water appliances, to watering outside plants efficiently, to simply turning off the tap when they are not using the water. Agriculture can conserve by using irrigation systems that reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation and runoff.
Another solution is to increase the use of certain renewable energy sources. Wind and solar photovoltaic energy use very little water and can potentially supply the entire country with all the energy it needs. The systems for this are not in place yet, but the potential is certainly there. While the private sector has been slow to make the necessary changes, the implementation of stricter carbon emissions standards is a way the government can help encourage the use of renewables, which will in turn save water.
Eating lower on the food chain can also save a great deal of water. Eating less meat and dairy is one of the easiest ways to conserve water. Meat and dairy require not only water for the animals to drink, but also water to grow the animal’s feed. If you are going to eat meat choosing grass-fed, rather than grain-fed, can reduced the amount of water required to produce your meal.
By implementing the suggestions above we can reduce our dependence on such large quantities of water and perhaps lessen the competition between the energy sector and private consumption.
- Michael E. Webber, Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?, N.Y. Times, July 23, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/opinion/will-drought-cause-the-next-blackout.html.