The Interdependency of Energy and Water


In 2006, the Department of Energy (DoE) submitted a 70+page report to Congress: Energy Demands on Water Resources. While the date of the report suggests it is “old”, the content is quite informational in describing the current interdependencies of energy and water. The very first paragraph of the Executive Summary (p9) shows the importance of this relationship.

[It was the creation of the] water infrastructure that allowed us to harness the vast resources of the country’s rivers and watersheds, control floods, and store water during droughts to provide reliable supplies of freshwater for agricultural, industrial, domestic, and energy uses. During this same period [the past century], the U.S. developed extensive natural resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium and created an infrastructure to process and transport these resources in an efficient and cost-effective manner to consumers. These two achievements have helped stimulate unprecedented economic growth and development.

During this same century, two other factors have provided a counter-balance to this economic prosperity: population and energy demands. In 1910, the population of the US was 92 million. By 2010, it has reached 310 million. The U.S. is the only major industrialized country still growing. The impact of increasing population manifests itself as vanishing open spaces, water and energy shortages, soil erosion, air pollution, overcrowded schools, urban sprawl, and traffic.

While the United States has a developed infrastructure to accommodate these changes, population growth equates to the demand for more development which, in turn, begins to outpace the availability of services – police, schools, hospitals, sanitation, utility and water systems – which are finite and become increasingly more costly – in terms of dollars and suitability. There are not many people who are interested in having wind farms or towers for power lines crossing their properties, or having landfills and prisons placed in or near their communities.

At the heart of these issues is water. To return to the DoE report:

Water is an integral element of energy resource development and utilization. It is used in energy-resource extraction, refining and processing, and transportation. Water is also an integral part of electric-power generation. It is used directly in hydroelectric generation and is also used extensively for cooling and emissions scrubbing in thermo- electric generation.”

It is becoming increasingly clearer that freshwater is diminishing in availability and quality. I encourage you to read through the DoE report to better appreciate this perspective on the challenges to water and energy as the US population continues to expand.

These trends in energy use, water availability, and water demand suggest that the U.S. will continue to face issues related to the development, utilization, and management of the critical resources of water and energy. Increasing population will increase demand for water for direct use as well as for energy and agriculture.

If these problems are anticipated for the US, imagine how challenging it will be for the world.

We remain a single neighborhood of 7 billion neighbors.


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