You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Dealing With Drought

It's kind of talking-pointy, but Daniel Weiss and Zoe Brown have a nice analysis of the ongoing droughts in both the Southeast and Southwest. Beyond flogging the usual (sensible!) conservation measures, they also make the good point that energy use is a major culprit here:

Power plants are voracious water users. Nuclear plants use 830 gallons of water per megawatt hour, and coal plants are right behind at 750 gallons per megawatt hour. If current power generation and energy demand trends continue, power plants will use 7.3 billion gallons a day by 2030. The Department of Energy reports that this equals all U.S. water consumption a decade ago.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught onto this a few weeks ago, arguing that, seeing as how Atlanta's Lake Lanier is drying up, maybe it wasn't such a keen idea for the state to grant permits for a new coal plant that will consume "nearly 20 million gallons of water a day" from the Chattahoochee River, "putting an additional strain on metro Atlanta's major source of drinking water." (There's also that whole global warming thing, which is only going to dry out the region further.)

Conversely, wind and solar power use little water. But many states in the Southeast have strongly opposed renewable energy mandates—claiming that they can't live without coal. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue commissioned an energy task force last year that, in the end, recommended a big push toward renewable power, but that proposal's now gathering dust in a filing cabinet. I wonder, though—if the AJC's any indication—if the water crisis could finally prompt folks to rethink their energy stance. (OK, more likely, they'll just conjure up a way to cool power plants without using so much water, but one can always hope...)

--Bradford Plumer