The Water-Energy Nexus / 1.

I guess I should just say what we already know: water is critical to all life functions. It’s not that water is ever more or less critical to life but its availability and predictability is changing. And, those changes will have profound impact on geographies around the world.

I have written several posts about this before. Continuing attention is being given to the tightly-coupled relationship between water and energy demands because of the need for each to enable more of the exploitation of both. This will be the first of several posts to profile just how important this relationship is and will be going forward into the future. In this same context, I have recently written about the growing importance of wastewater management/recycling. Just as wastewater is growing in importance, so is the management of water used throughout most of our global industries and processes.

In a recent article in WaterWorld: Less Water, More Technology, Growing Water Risks Drive New Initiatives in Industrial Water Efficiency by Jeff Gunderson, this issue is summed up very nicely with a quote by a senior vice president and industrial wastewater technical leader with HDR:

“…this linkage — known as the water-energy nexus — is becoming a significant, driving factor in the pursuit of water-efficiency-related projects across the industrial economy.”

At first, it might seem that wastewater somehow just slipped into the equation. In a way, it has. The view that municipalities around the world have of wastewater had begun to change profoundly. A recently compiled report by the Danish Ministry of Environment: Water – Food – Energy Nexus: Towards a Widening of the Water Agenda, outlined the challenges facing the world.

“The time that water challenges could be addressed in isolation has past. Trends as population growth and economic development are increasing the demand for water, food, and energy. In addition the impact of climate change will have huge consequences on water and food availability. If we fail to move to a more sustainable use of our natural resources the social and economic consequences will be enormous.

It is clear that there is no place in our interlinked world for isolated solutions aimed at just one sector. If the world is going to reduce hunger and eradicate poverty in a sustainable way we have to achieve security for water, food and energy simultaneously. In such an effort water will be the medium by which we should address this nexus.”

I just viewed a very interesting Infographic from the Asian Development Bank entitled: Building Resilience Against Disasters. Of the many facts that propagate this sheet, two seemed to be staring at me more than the others.

  • Most Asian cities lack efficient wastewater treatment systems; and
  • More than two-thirds of collected solid waste is not disposed of properly.

This is significant because the Asia-Pacific Region has suffered the greatest loss from natural disasters – more than 50% in the past 40 years. Disasters reap havoc on the entire environment of a devastated area. Think of the impact from any flood or hurricane or tsunami or earthquake.

Just the other day, as I was driving through a suburb of Washington, DC, I just started thinking about many of the things that we often take for granted. Perhaps these thoughts came from the numerous infrastructure projects that seem to be so visible and “disruptive”. Yes, they can be a nuisance. Imagine what our cities would be like without this hidden-from-view necessity?

Back to the idea of the nexus. Much of the world is balancing a fine wire between providing a reliable source of clean, potable water and managing its growing wastewater volumes. Much of the world is challenged to have adequate water for daily consumption and agriculture. California has been playing water roulette for too many years. This recent drought and declining water reserves is putting the state in the same condition that persisted in Australia for over 11 straight years – only ending a few years ago.

Without adequate water, many of our generating plants will go dark.

Without adequate water supplies, the hidden-from-view services such as wastewater treatment will become more challenging and no longer relegated to those “other” countries.


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