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The Conservation Quest




Included below is research information and links to websites and reports to help go further in depth about the widespread and vital climate, energy and water interconnection. These integrated dynamics along with their resource management implications are increasingly important and compelling in this 21st century world amplified by the pressures of population, consumption and economic growth and liberated by the opportunities of systematic innovation, conservation and sustainability. The information and links provided here will be updated periodically throughout the year.



The climate is critical to the most basic hospitality of life on earth; water, like clean air, is a most precious and vital ‘resource’ that sustains us and binds us, while energy is deeply meshed in our working and striving for a better life.

Most regrettably and most pronounced in recent decades, we have set water, energy and climate on an unintended but vicious cycle of depletion, pollution and unsustainability. The discombobulated 20th century system from which we have yet to genuinely evolve, poses the danger of disintegration: from the way we get our water one leaky municipality by another, which in all accounts for 40% of our entire nation’s energy use, the energy and water wastefulness abounds; to the way we get our electricity from one dirty utility scale power plant and inefficient grid to another, the energy and water wastefulness abounds. The pollution from these sources and malfunctions, not to mention our own excessive end-use, is - among other health problems - causing human induced climate change. Climate change by our deeply engrained emission of greenhouse gases in turn threatens fresh water supplies the world over, overburdens and destroys the water and energy infrastructure (among countless other harmful disruptions), directly affects and often increases the demand for energy and water and entails increasingly significant expenditure of GDP (energy itself) to cope with all the ramifications. Indeed, the ethic of looking out for the next generation in America itself is in question with the spiral of inefficiency, energy and water utility consumerism and widespread disregard for these most precious dynamics (climate~energy~wter) which preserve life-itself and the hope for a better life for all.

Yet if we strive for and attain integration of climate, energy, water solutions – solutions that work in harmony, solutions that decouple economic growth from water and energy resource exploitation, solutions based on innovation, cost effectiveness and respect for future generations, solutions reflected by the smartness of our electricity and water utilities, solutions dependant on the rise of a new era of responsibility, solutions building a revolutionary system of efficiency, conservation and renewable resources – we can and we will not only save water, save energy and save the climate, we will save America and heal the planet.



Go to:
for an informative and thorough study of the often underappreciated integration of energy, water and climate in our world (and with a case study in Australia). It makes compelling points about:

• ‘Embedded” energy and water uses involved in the life cycle of our economy including significant energy and water uses for the purposes of food, electricity & water utilities, trade & transportation and fuels;

• Water being principally used for agriculture (60% of total water use), followed by utilities, households and other industrial/manufacturing uses;

• How in agriculture there are plenty of irrigation technologies some more water intensive and others more energy intensive (the key is to pursue most balanced and efficient approaches that simultaneously conserve energy and water, maximally sustain soil, reduce long term costs and improve overall productivity);

• The importance of integrated solutions to these integrated challenges in a world of rising pressure from population, consumption and economic growth (which without new systems thinking could seriously exacerbate the problems of these unresolved dynamics);

• The call for decoupling growth in GDP from increase in primary energy use  (energy intensity), water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Currently increase in GDP mimics increase in energy and water as well as greenhouse gas emissions. With population, consumption patterns and growth predictions, that mimicking is not sustainable (especially with predominate world energy sources being fossil fuel based).  How we should also be striving to decouple energy from water use and water from energy use;

• With systems thinking and integrated solutions to these challenges, making gains in one area has positive feedback on the other areas. For instance, a low GHG emission economy will clearly lessen climate pollution while also significantly reducing water and energy wastefulness.



There are countless integrations of climate, energy and water. An example is that water vapor is the principal greenhouse gas causing climate change ahead of CO2, methane and Nitrous Oxide. There are many natural ways that the climate is changing and that energy and water and climate interact. For more on the natural dynamics GO TO The Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) and for reporting. (GEWEX is Hosting the Water in a Changing Climate Progress in Land-Atmosphere Interactions and Energy/Water Cycle Research Conference August 2009)

In this research we focus on society’s resource choices and impacts.
Human induced climate change is putting a strain on water and energy infrastructure but is also spurring runaway climate change in the forms of release of stored methane, melting of sea ice and permafrost. A range of impacts is already beginning to adversely affect the United States, and our best scientists and models say they are projected to intensify. Each week there are reports of new climate-related challenges, existing and potential: drought-stricken regions in the southeastern and southwestern US that threaten water supplies for agriculture, energy, and urban areas; early snowpack melt causing spring flooding and summer water shortages; melting permafrost and eroding coastlines in Alaska threatening the way of life of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region; infestations of insects that act as deadly pests to forested ecosystems such as the pine bark beetle in the Pacific Northwest; western wildfires; loss of agricultural crops; rapidly shifting climatic zones and associated ecosystem stresses for plants and animals; increased disease vectors in human and animal populations; the threat of more frequent and intense hurricanes and storms like Katrina; and potential storm surges that could devastate low-lying coastal communities from the Gulf Coast to New York City subway tunnels.

For climate strategy: from consequences to a prevention and preparedness initiative see the following site
with reporting including the expectation that under hotter and drier conditions there will be an increased demand for irrigation water, which will, in turn, cause the water-table to rise. This also as shown below in the water sections will increase energy use as the energy dynamic is such a prominent part of our municipal and agricultural and other water systems.

More generally to assesses the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change go to world’s scientific leaders known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for in-depth understanding – GO TO:

For Climate Action-oriented websites visit: (do the power pledge to enlist in the clean energy revolution) (local)



The primary ways we produce and use energy emit unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gases contributing substantially to global climate change (and as referenced above climate change has a dangerous feedback effect on water supplies, energy infrastructure and beyond). Beyond causing climate change, what arises from conventional electric power generation, the burning of fossil fuels and the whole carbon based economy are the simultaneous problems of most serious energy and water resource depletion. The extraction, delivery and processing of fossil fuels used for transportation and electricity production from fossil fuel sources (coal, gas, oil) are very energy intensive. Energy intensity h, is the ratio of the total energy used for construction, operation and decommissioning E, to the electricity output of the plant/device over its lifetime Et.

What is less known is that electricity and energy from oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear also requires a lot of water in both the heating and especially the cooling process. Coal plants require very pure water to produce steam for their turbines, water for cooling, and water for the pre-treatment of coal and to prevent spontaneous combustion. The nuclear option is basically a subset of the ‘waste heat’ approach in coal plants, with the added requirement of a substantial quarantine infrastructure (involving energy and water) so that radiation-contaminated heat-exchange liquids are kept far removed from the water distilled for human uses.

Furthermore, many of the kinds of energy sources and production mechanisms we are contemplating and implementing in the transition to sustainability are also very water and energy intensive. For example, corn stalk (unlike corn byproduct) based ethanol even though it supports energy independence and helps national security goals requires massive amounts of water to produce, it is energy intensive compared to the other alternative fuel options, it diverts land which can otherwise act as sinks to greenhouse gases and can negatively affect pricing in the food economy. Alternatively cellulosic ethanol and waste gas for biodeisel are much wiser and efficient ways to produce biofuels that require less energy and water to produce. Similarly, when we contemplate a hydrogen energy economy we must be careful about the implications on energy intensity involved in the splitting of the water molecule to produce hydrogen. Likewise in water development, desalination requires massive amounts of energy as compared to end user water treatment and recycling. The point is to integrate our thinking about energy, water and climate so we do not wind up with unintended consequences in resolving our currently unsustainable climate~energy~water dynamics.

The renewable energy sources for electricity and transportation fuels – wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, cellulosic ethanol, waste gas, etc. – tend to be the least energy and water intensive and of course vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the conventional sources. These, along with major transformations in efficiency and conservation are certainly a critical component of the long term sustainability solution.

GO TO for further energy intensity indicators in the United States. has a good table below indicating CO2 emissions and energy pay-back ratios of the following renewable and non-renewable sources. The EPR tells us how much conventional energy we use today in order to obtain energy tomorrow. As can be seen, conventional coal power plants have the highest emissions followed by oil, natural gas, biomass. Hydro and wind have the lowest emissions. Photovoltaic technologies are advancing rapidly and its the environmental indicators improve year by year and approaching those for wind and hydroelectric.

The following is a report prepared for Department of Energy on how energy & water security are closely linked:

which states: “If coal and nuclear power are major parts of the electric power equation, and evolutionary technology is used, water will be a major input and constraint. The key problem is water for cooling. (A secondary problem is water for new scrubbing technologies to limit air emissions.) As of today, about 40 percent of our freshwater use in the United States is for power plant cooling. This is close to the quantity of water used for irrigation and other agricultural uses (about 42 percent). Although water use for cooling is mostly non-consumptive, it does have both water quality and consumptive use impacts. Again, the severity of the problem may best be shown by example. In many river basins, water temperatures are limiting the expansion of our generating capacity. For example, Tennessee imposed a moratorium in 2002 on the installation of new “merchant” power plants because of cooling constraints. These high-efficiency, natural-gas-fired turbines require large quantities of water for cooling. With current technology, water cannot be made available for cooling without imposing unacceptable damages to our aquatic systems. Similar moratoriums have occurred in Pennsylvania, Washington, and Idaho. Idaho recently ruled that two large power plants proposed for the Washington-Idaho border should be denied water rights for cooling. The plants would evaporate nearly four billion gallons each year, or enough freshwater for about 100,000 U.S. citizens with typical usage. This situation could become worse in the future with more energy production and climate change. Innovative and affordable cooling technologies could, and should, be developed. These new technologies will hopefully reduce or eliminate the need for water cooling. In fact, cooling technologies already exist that do not require water, but they are much less energy efficient than water cooled systems. Thus, even more new power plants would have to be constructed to meet our nation’s growing electricity demand if these existing technologies were used. Our nation’s electricity demand is expected to grow significantly, even with the adoption of new energy efficient technologies. Additional generating capacity must be constructed to meet growing demand and to support economic development. And whether it is based on coal, natural gas (merchant plants), or even nuclear, additional water supplies will be needed for cooling. But will that water be available? Will the water be available in the locations where the power plants should be constructed? If power plants are constructed where the water is available, will there be sufficient transmission and wheeling capacity to move the electricity to the regions of demand? The argument that our energy security and water goals will soon clash has become more compelling.”

Suggests that two main factors contribute to decrease the CO2 intensity of the GDP: energy productivity improvement on the one hand, and a change to energy sources with lower CO2 emission factors (e.g. gas, renewables, nuclear).

The World Resource Institute offers an excellent resource for climate and energy research

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) offers a wealth of resources on energy, alternative energy resources and beyond.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is a must visit to lean more about the growing marketplace of energy efficiency and renewable energy. is a good resource for saving energy at home (helpful tips on appliances, water heaters and more).

One Sky New Mexico, a local resource for new energy~policy developments.



Alliance to Save Energy ( coined this phrase “Watergy” to do with the energy intensity and water wastefulness of municipal water system and produced an excellent report on systematic ways to improve energy and water conservation throughout the cycle of society’s water use.

Visit for general information, tips and resources including the key report

Some of the reports compelling findings are as follows:

“Effective management of leaks [in municipal water systems] can save enormous quantities of water and energy. Leakage rates can be lowered dramatically with automated controls that reduce pressure in the network, especially at night.” This points to the critical need for a smart water grid just like the call for a smart energy grid.

Part and parcel to leak management this report encourages system automation, better metering and monitoring (“you can’t manage what you don’t measure”) as well as pumps performance, pressure management (a case study in South Africa, describes a pressure management project with a payback period of less than three months that is saving 14 million kWh of electricity and 8 million kL of water - over 2 billion gallons - every year), low-friction pipes, system design and layout, and basic energy and water audits.

Pumping is a critical component of almost every step of the municipal water system (from extraction of water from natural sources, carrying, treatment, delivery to end-users, re-delivery and after-use treatment) and about 75% of the total cost of this component is the energy cost. Increasingly move to pump efficiency technology and pump only when needed [another case in point for a smart water grid] instead of too wastefully.

Whole-scale municipal water efficiency not only saves water, it save energy, it improves system productivity and reliability and generates revenue through minimized operating expenditures and tremendous long tem cost savings.”



On-site recycling of domestic wastewater can have the immediate outcome of reducing a household’s water use, and the longer-term outcome of reducing the load on the municipal wastewater utility and thereby reducing energy use and climate pollution. On the other hand desalination plants, while offering a very compelling technical solution to meeting world water supply needs, must be implemented and managed very carefully because of the extreme energy intensity implications involved in the desalinization, water transportation and pumping processes.

The American Waterworks Association (AWWA) at is a terrific resource for wide-scale water (and inter-related energy) conservation.

Similarly UNESCO // the United Nations Environment, Science and Culture Organization has done extensive research and problems solving work in the area of water conservation and sustainability and in this following excellent report provides insights into the vital interconnectivity of water and energy.


Water: a Shared Responsibility. Part 1. Energy for Water Supply. The UN World Development Report 2

Here are some of the key points in the report:

“Water and energy are two highly interconnected sectors: energy is needed throughout the water system, from supplying water to its various users, including urban people, to collecting and treating wastewater. On the other-hand, water is essential to producing energy, from hydropower to water cooling in power stations.

The energy savings from water conservation and the water savings from energy efficiency are inextricably linked.

Water conservation saves upstream energy inputs (involved in the extraction, treatment and delivery), end-use energy inputs (typically to do with residential and commercial heating and cooling needs) and downstream energy inputs (involved in collecting, treating and disposing of water).

For example like in the distribution process, the collection component of the water cycle, requires electricity based water pumps to boost the wastewater to treatment facilities. Wastewater treatment requires energy to remove contaminants and send water for discharge or reuse. In aerobic water treatment, it’s the aeration that requires energy. Opportunity: waste water treatment plants can recover methane gas from organics in the water and use this to supply its own energy needs or cell back to the grid.

Pumping systems (for irrigated agriculture and municipal water systems) alone account for 20% fo the world’s electrical energy demand and range from 25 percent to 50 percent of total energy use in many industrial operations.

Be careful about seeming water savings technologies like certain major irrigation units that may save some portion of water in the process but are so energy intensive that it backfires.

Think about energy intensity and water usage in tandem: for example desalinization is much more energy intensive than wastewater recycling.

In the United States, approximately 40% of daily freshwater use if for power generation (even though most is returned to source, 2% is consumed/evaporated, water availability is driving the the development of cooling technology for thermal power application).

Water recycling and re-use, including a treatment step is generally far less energy intensive than developing any new physical source of water, other than local surface water.

Integrate energy savings into water policy decision-making saves money, reduces pollution and can save water (NRDC ’04 California Report).

Overview: The supply of water and wastewater services of all kinds to urban areas generally involves high electrical energy consumption. However, by taking a total system

approach to energy management in these systems, including energy audits, it is possible to achieve big energy savings. Water conservation can lead to large energy savings and vi-sa-versa. substantial efficiency gains in water use will reduce electric power requirements, which in turn will lead to more savings of water otherwise used in power generation.”

Local water conservation sites: and



A water- and energy-efficient future in a climate-constrained world will involve the determination and ingenuity of everyone, man, woman and child. We will also need vigilant, strong and responsive leadership from all corporate CEOs, elected officials and civil society spokespeople and at the level of management of all the dispersed and deeply affected sectors of the economy. The key points of the preliminary research and links that go in more depth are:

(1)  We need learn much more about these and other integrated dynamics;

(2)  We need to act on what we learn, and act in a wise way – namely:

(3)  We need integrated solutions to these integrated problems (including an energy and water smart grid merging sustainability with the information super highway) à Develop critical, systematic thinking and whole-scale problem-solving approaches to these deeply inter-related challenges;

(4)  We need to decouple energy intensity, water waste and GHG emission from economic growth and thereby develop a most sustainable economy built on new developing paradigms;

(5)  Opportunities abound for the integration needed, opportunities which will save energy, save water, save the climate and save financial resources all while improving the long term productivity and real value of our economy;

(6)  Given the scale of the problems and inefficiencies that exist and the compelling abundance of opportunities that abound, we urgently need the merger of bright entrepreneurship, massive incentives, clear price signals (aka a carbon tax), unequivocal integrity and courageous leadership at all levels of society to solve these challenges now and in the future.

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