Each year World Water Day is celebrated on March 22 and this year the focus is on jobs and by extension energy. The day is an opportunity to raise awareness and engage concrete actions related to responsible water stewardship. The first World Water Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly on March 22, 1993.
Water stewardship is a global issue. As reviewed in a 2016 Yale report, since 2000 the number of people who lack access to clean water has been cut nearly in half from over one billion to 550 million.
However as highlighted by the lead issue in the drinking waster of Flint and other US cities the problem of clean water is not just an issue in the developing. World water day is also about the ways in which our economy and energy generation is dependent on water. As explained by the UN, World Water Day is also about the economy and jobs.
Although one and a half billion people work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs are dependent on water in one way or another, many of these workers are not protected by basic labor rights. That is why the theme this year is water and jobs. Specifically how the quantity and quality of water can change workers lives and livelihoods and even transform societies and economies.
The eleventh edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016, identified climate change as the single biggest threat but water was also a big concern of these experts. They specifically warned about water shortages and droughts, as well as inefficient or non-existent water infrastructure to transport water to where it is needed.
The Global Opportunity Report 2016, a collaboration of three organizations, DNV GL, the UN Global Compact, and Monday Morning, identifies water risks as an opportunity. A key opportunity that they highlighted is what they call “Smart Water Regulation,” which emphasizes such things as effective pricing mechanisms that will encourage all water users to use water more efficiently and responsibly. Their argument is that raising water rates, particularly in the US, will benefit everybody.
Here are some of the opportunities they identified from raising water rates as reviewed in and Environmental Leader article by Klaus Reichardt is CEO of Waterless Co. Inc,:
- First and foremost, higher costs will invariably influence water consumption and make Americans much more water-wise and responsible when it comes to water.
- Rising costs will encourage private industry to step in and develop water-using products that are much more water efficient; we see this happening already.
- Additional funds collected due to rising water prices can be used to invest in water infrastructure and pipelines, which are in dire condition in many parts of the U.S.
- Improving water infrastructure creates all kinds of jobs for the public and private sectors from engineers and designers to construction workers; moreover, these are typically well-paying jobs.
- Funds become available so we can more accurately measure and monitor water; current and accurate water data are necessary for water efficiency.
One of the most wasteful components of water usage in the US is related to the shale gas boom. While gas is touted as a more environmentally friendly source of energy studies show that it is not as clean as its supporters suggest, in fact it may be worse than coal. In addition leaking natural gas pipelines are ubiquitous further compounding the problem.
Downstream Strategies says that in 2006 there were 35,000 wells that had been fractured that had required as much as 140 billion gallons per year of water. The same article quotes Susan Story, chief executive of American Waterworks as saying that 200 billion gallons of water are used each day for power generation.
All forms of thermal power and hydro electric power are also at risk from water shortages. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, energy production, water supply and food production account for more than 94 percent of water withdrawals from lakes, rivers and streams.
The National Energy Renewable Laboratory has reported that the United States alone withdraws 1,500 gallons of fresh water per capita each day. That includes 190 gallons a day for domestic and commercial use, 673 gallons each day for industrial use and 600 gallons every day for agricultural use. “In many regions, the water supply is shrinking because of drought and non-sustainable pumping aquifers,” says the lab’s study.
The World Policy Institute indicates that coal-and-oil-fired power plants consume roughly twice the water than that of gas-fired facilities while nuclear generation needs three times that of natural gas. Carbon capture and burial could increase water consumption between 30-100 percent.
Both wind turbines and solar panels are the most efficient forms of energy generation when it comes to water. However, solar thermal electricity generation uses twice the water as coal and five times the amount as gas-fired plants.
New technologies like “one-through cooling” that returns nearly all the water to its original source and “closed loop” systems that re-circulate the water. However, we will need to be far better water managers if we are to meet our energy needs.
Concerns about water risks are not new and neither are attempts to address the problem. A 2010 report by Ceres reviews water risks to public utilities and their investors. A 2014 Ensia article by Ceres President Mindy Lubber reports that San Francisco’s water utility is a leader in responsible water stewardship. The water utility’s headquarters uses 60 percent less water than comparable-size buildings with an additional construction cost of less than 1 percent. The utility is allowing building owners and developers to produce and exchange onsite water with each other. It’s paying up to $500,000 to developers who can produce water onsite (this includes gray water, rainwater or stormwater) for use by other entities in the city.
There are some interesting developments in the finance of US water projects. For example, in March Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office announced that they will issue $5.5 million in coal severance tax bonds as part of a $40.5 million financing package for a dozen drinking water and wastewater projects across the state.