Texas Clean Air Matters

How farms can tend to the energy-water nexus, reduce costs and help their communities

By Kate Zerrenner, Senior Manager of Energy-Water Initiatives, Environmental Defense Fund, and Dylan Dupre, President and CEO, CalCom Energy

Across the country, farmers face unrelenting pressure to conserve both water and energy. From California to Texas, recent droughts and declining groundwater levels require more pumping to provide irrigation water for crops. Pumping water takes energy, as do many other precision agriculture tasks involved in running a successful farm today. This symbiotic relationship between water and energy use – often called the energy-water nexus – is taking its toll on America’s agricultural industry.

For most operations, the result is higher costs, tighter margins and, unfortunately for everyone, a less sustainable food supply.

Demand for food is expected to surge by more than 50 percent as the global population grows to 9 billion people by 2050. In light of this, how can farms adequately manage water and energy to ensure their survival and the security of our food supply?

The answer is not simple, but it is clear: integrated resource management. Farms must consider their use of water and energy together to ensure the optimal use of both. Doing so isn’t just good for the sustainability of our food systems, it’s good for the bottom line. Read More »

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3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

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El Paso Electric should protect the city’s water and let solar power shine

Resiliency is a hot button word right now. Ten years ago, advocates focused on “adaptation,” or the idea of adapting to the coming effects of climate change. Now the focus is on “resiliency,” the ability to bounce forward – not backward – when something disastrous happens.

For El Paso, a city on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, resilience is critical. A huge city in the middle of the desert with an average rainfall around 8 inches per year, El Paso needs to be hardy, especially when it comes to water.

El Paso Water Utility (EPWU) is on top of the problem, enacting programs and initiatives to ensure El Paso’s water resiliency. Unfortunately, El Paso Electric – the city’s electric utility – is not doing everything it can to use less water.

To protect the city’s water, the utility should fully embrace no-water solar PV energy and not discourage customers from using solar power at their homes and businesses.

Read More »

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3 energy-water nexus lessons from the state of Texas

With summer just around the corner, I – like many Texans – intend to spend as much time as possible in or near water when it’s scorching outside. But, even though we’ve had a wet winter, I can’t help but think of the terrible drought that plagued Texas for years. Just a few short years ago, my dad had to sell his motorboat because there was no water in nearby Lake Travis. Then floods pummeled many parts of Texas, and some of those same lakes are full for the first time in 15 years. And, it’s not just Texas watching the pendulum swing from historic drought to heavy rains.

Following a five-year drought, California’s winter was one of the snowiest and wettest on record. Plus, regions of the Southeast and Northeast have experienced unprecedented droughts recently.

Many fear these extremes are the new normal as climate models suggest drought and floods will be intensified under a changing climate. This data supports why it’s critical to ensure the stability of our future water supply. Fortunately, there is an inextricable link between energy and water that presents untapped opportunities to conserve water.

Known as the energy-water nexus, the link refers to the water embedded in energy and the energy embedded in water. Consider the amount of water it takes to produce and distribute electricity. As well, consider the amount of electricity used to treat, pump, and distribute water. And, while many clean energy resources are virtually water-free, traditional sources—such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas— require a significant amount of water to generate power. Read More »

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Rounding up the Water, Clean Energy, and Climate Bills in the 85th Texas Legislative Session

We’re entering the home stretch of the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature.

Now past the Session’s midway point, legislators and advocates are working hard to ensure their bills cross the finish line. Here’s a look at which water, clean energy, and climate bills have been filed, including those we hope will rise to the top.

Water bills

In the 1930s, Texas meteorologist Isaac Klein reportedly said Texas is a land of eternal drought, interrupted occasionally by biblical floods. Luckily the state is in a relatively wet period: The majority of Texas is drought-free and just under half the state is in the lowest bracket of drought.

But Texans understand water should always be on our minds, so it’s no surprise there are dozens of water bills this Session. Read More »

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Saving Energy and Doubling Worldwide Water Supplies – One Drip at a Time

Netafim HQOn a warm December day, I stood in a jojoba field in the Negev Desert in southern Israel and watched water slowly seep up from the ground around the trees. First a tiny spot, then spreading, watering the plants from deep below. This highly efficient system is known as drip irrigation, and I was there to meet with the world’s leading drip irrigation company, Israel-based Netafim.

Naty Barak, the Netafim director who I met on the visit, notes that if the world’s farmers increased their use of drip irrigation to 15 percent (up from just under 5 percent now), the amount of water available for use worldwide could double.

Drip irrigation saves more than water. Whereas traditional irrigation typically uses quite a bit of energy, drip reduces the pressure (and power) needed to get the water to the crops while reducing the need for energy-hungry fertilizers. Plus, due to the inextricable link between water and power, saving water results in further saved energy.

Texas has already enhanced its water efficiency, but it could go further and take a page out of Israel’s book. By investing in thoughtful drip irrigation now, Texas could lead the nation on expanding this innovative technology and significantly reduce the energy footprint of its irrigation sector, while protecting water supplies for our growing cities and creating more sustainable farming practices. Read More »

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