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The potential for water scarcity touches several segments of the energy sector, from hydraulic fracturing to hydropower to power plant cooling to growing algae or crops for biofuels. As water needs from the sector rise, this raises the question of how water use in energy should be regulated.

Commentators with expertise in various aspects of the energy sector have weighed in on these questions in an online conversation moderated by Elias Hinckley, a partner in law firm Sullivan & Worcester’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Group. 

More Quantitative Work Needed

“Data quality on this extremely important subject is poor,” said energy analyst Chris Nelder. “There seems to be a dearth of good, recent studies…compared to our data on energy markets, the energy-water data are pathetic.”

Regional/National Coordination in Water Policy

“Our water use and allocation priorities are crafted on a state-by-state basis with little regard for the priorities and needs of neighboring states who share transboundary waters, and without linking local and state priorities to other interdependent regional and national concerns, like energy,” said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. “Crafting regional as well as a national water policy would go a long way toward improved water management for long-term sustainability in light of growing climatic and water availability concerns.”

Water’s Role in Energy Security

“Of concern are not just the gross quantities of both resources that are involved, but significant vulnerability and security problems stemming from the interdependencies,” said Lewis Perelman, Principal of energy analysis and consulting firm the Perelman Group. “Shortages or interruptions of water supply can lead to power supply problems, and vice versa.”

‘Slow-Motion Train Wreck’

“The western and southwestern regions of the US are drying out, and key aquifers are being rapidly depleted.  What’s happening on the Colorado is a slow motion train wreck,” said Roger Arnold, a Systems Architect with Silverthorn Engineering.

“To live within a sustainable water budget, agriculture throughout the west – but especially in California – will need to at least double its water efficiency.  Can it be done?  In theory, yes, but it will take big changes.”

Deployment Challenges

“There are major technology opportunities in a variety of contexts, including water efficiency; water recycling and reuse; wastewater to energy; information technology applications to reduce usage and leakage; advanced irrigation approaches; water storage as a driver or demand-side energy management; and advanced desalination techniques,” said Jim Wrathall, counsel at law firm Sullivan & Worcester.

“The critical challenge is deployment…one of the primary policy topics to address is the question of what more can be done to support the technology deployment process.”

The full conversation can be found here.

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