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Reducing water use to save energy

Ethan Elkind, director, Climate Program at Berkeley Law | May 21, 2011

In California, we’re always talking about conserving water, usually because of a drought, and increasingly because of our growing population and likely future of water shortages due to climate change. But research shows another compelling reason: conserving water means conserving energy.

Pumping and treating water is energy-intensive — the state water project, with its big pumps to get water over the Tehachapi Mountains to Southern California, is the state’s single biggest user of electricity. And the energy associated with water use — such as from dishwashers, hot water heaters, and laundry machines — adds up to a lot of pollution and waste. The California Energy Commission estimates that twenty percent of our electricity is associated with water use, mostly by urban customers.

UC Berkeley and UCLA Law Schools issued a white paper on Thursday outlining policies to reduce the most energy-intensive water use. Called Drops of Energy, the white paper also discusses the most prevalent barriers to conserving this water and ways to overcome them. It stems from a workshop discussion we convened with water agency managers, businesses, environmental groups, and state and local leaders.  It is the seventh in our ongoing Business and Climate Change Research Initiative.

Some key recommendations for water agencies and state leaders:

  • implement rate structures that encourage and reward water use efficiency;
  • gather and publicize water consumption data to help policy-makers and consumers understand where the inefficiencies lie;
  • coordinate a statewide marketing campaign to encourage water conservation and water use efficiency as a way of life; and
  • expand energy-efficiency funding programs to water consumers, such as a public goods surcharge on water bills to help consumers pay for water efficiency improvements.

So the next time you let your tap run or refuse to upgrade that inefficient water heater or dishwasher, know that you’re not only wasting water and money, you’re wasting energy.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet, a Berkeley Law/UCLA Law collaboration.

Comments to “Reducing water use to save energy

  1. Domestic water waste and the energy wastes that come with it are often overlooked because they are small individually but they add up to immense dissipation of natural resources. Government level policies are a must to stop the ominious trend.
    Feel free to visit my blog dedicated to the discussion of energy efficient water heating systems.

  2. For all those interested in the subject, check out – they’ve been linking water and energy for a long time, and their projects usually have a payback time of 1-3 years only…

  3. You’re missing a HUGE connection between energy and water, but the other direction.

    About half of the water used in this country went to power plants (mostly to run steam turbines)in 2005, according to statistics from U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    The other half is split between (mostly) agriculture, public supply, livestock and aquaculture, industry, and mining.

    Steam turbines will continue to consume lots of water, especially if we keep adding solar (thermal) to the grid in the desert (which we will because of the Renewable Portfolio Standard), and solar thermal uses steam turbines. Also biomass, biofuels, nuclear, and gas combined cycle all use steam turbines.

    Is it really true that the water being pumped is mostly for urban use? I thought a large part was agricultural in California.

    I do recall we were all much more water conscious in the ’80s early ’90s when we had that 5-year(?) drought and people let their pools run dry and lawns brown. Maybe as the state has become less agricultural and we don’t see orchards everywhere anymore, we’ve lost touch with how dry it is here.

  4. The world needs new leadership dedicated exclusively to preventing climate changes from destroying quality of life for future generations in this century.

    The U.N. and Washington haven’t been able to accomplish this due to irreconcilable forces.

    Is it possible for an organization like the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment to provide the leadership to bring together key politicians and scientists to produce another Manhattan Project or Apollo Program dedicated to fast tracking the implementation of comprehensive solutions that will guarantee future quality of life in time?

  5. It saves more than electricity. Diesel and natural gas are also used to clean and transport water.

  6. These are very good, but inadequate recommendations considering the current level and increases in population, reductions in quality water, and global warming impacts on crops that already threaten quality of life today, and most certainly for our youngest and future generations.

    You should read the “Avoidance of Calamity” chapter by the late Nature journal Editor Sir John Maddox in his book “What Remains to Be Discovered.” It is basically the Answer Book for imperatives that must be implemented today.

    UC, along with our National Labs, has the best expertise and resources in the world to immediately implement a program of hybrid nuclear power/desalination plants on the fastest possible track to eliminate the need for CO2 producing power sources.

    The only question is, are UC regents, administrators and/or faculty dedicated to making the right things happen today, because as IPCC experts keep telling us with increasing gravity, that the window of opportunity is closing and we can expect to be at the point of no return threat level within decades?

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