Attention to the water-energy nexus usually focuses on water’s role in power production whether for solar thermal energy, hydraulic fracturing, or nuclear power. California’s epic plumbing project makes the role of power in water use a juicier topic.
Nineteen percent of all energy consumed in California goes to water-related uses, according to agency and news sources. That includes electricity produced in California, as well as imported fuels. The biggest share of the 19% goes to domestic use (28%). The extraction, pumping, transfer, and distribution of California’s water comes a close second at 22% of that overall 19%. This does not include irrigation. California devotes 10,300 gigawatt hours (GWH) annually to just moving water. (Total annual use is 265,000 GWH.)
Seventy-five percent of the water Californians use comes from the northern third of the state. Most of the rest comes from Owens Valley and the Colorado River. KQED has a nifty diagram laying out the wheres and hows of California’s plumbing project.
In a related article Sense & Sustainability has about water scarcity, the author argues:
If [water] demand is increasing and supply is stagnant, how do we avoid surpassing what our natural resources can bear?
We have to start by understand[ing] our own water usage.
Just as many individuals have altered their energy behavior, we should now begin finding efficiencies to reduce water consumption in our daily routines — reduce the water flow while washing dishes or turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth.
Her prescription prompted my good friend and former law professor, Geoff Manne, to remark, “The only problem is that, like politics, water is (largely) local.”
Water and politics may start locally, but when California uses 1/25th of its energy budget to migrate billions of gallons both the water and politics bloom beyond their “naturally” occuring boundaries. Thus the power California uses to slake the insatiable southern demand inexorably increases the power struggles among conservationists, agriculture, and urbanites. From that perspective, the 19% estimate is low because it does not include the significant energy these folks put in to protecting their slice of the sluiced substance.