When We Save Energy In Texas, We Also Save Water

Last week, the Texas Coalition for Water, Energy and Economic Security (TCWEES), of which EDF is a member, held a legislative briefing at the Texas Capitol titled Energy & Water, Dollars & Sense: Improving security and maximizing benefits to Texas businesses and residents. The briefing focused on the nexus of water and energy, and furthered the idea that where you save energy, you save water too. The briefing included a panel discussion and a question and answer session.

State Representative Lyle Larson from San Antonio welcomed attendees, a speaker that is well-suited to talk about water issues. Before becoming a state legislator, he served on San Antonio’s City Council, a city with one of the best water conservation programs in the country. Representative Larson started with an interesting point: In addition to the physical issues of water scarcity, we also need to resolve the psychological issues of water resources.

People simply do not think of water as a scarce resource, despite the multi-year droughts we’ve seen in Texas. Addressing water scarcity has been done in much the same way as system-wide power shortages: in a short term, reactive way, rather than a long term, proactive way. And we will never be able to meet our energy or water needs of our growing populations by being short-sighted.

Representative Larson said that water is the number one impediment to business no matter where you are in the world. Water-rich countries will take American jobs if we can’t address our scarcity, and water-rich states will take Texan jobs. We don’t deploy best management practices in this state when it comes to water. And calling for more water infrastructure is great, but conservation is going to save significantly more water than new infrastructure will.

Two days before this briefing, State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that Texas has its lowest water inventory going into this spring, and that the past two years are the third driest years on record. And predictions for coming out of the drought are not rosy. The problems we face with water are made worse by electric power shortages. Smart management of our water and electric resources is simply the only option for Texas.

Lt. Colonel Joseph Kopser then took the stage, where he accurately noted that it is impossible to talk about water and energy separately if you want to have a responsible discussion. He noted that the U.S. Department of Defense has to address water and energy conservation as a matter of life and death – literally – and they have the resources to do it.

And while what the Federal government does at its military bases in Texas is not directly impacted by the actions of the Texas Legislature, there are two components that make the Legislature’s work relevant: Military bases are often surrounded by communities, which are under Texas’s jurisdiction, and many soldiers, and their families, live off base. Texas installations act as test beds for new technologies, which can be shared with other parts of the state. Also, National Guard installations are not covered by the Federal rules in the same way as U.S. military installations, and an opportunity exists to address water and energy resource shortages at the more than 90 National Guard facilities in Texas.

Kirk Johnson from Corgan Associates presented third, and gave a great presentation on Lady Bird Middle School in Irving, which is the largest net-zero school in the U.S., and the first in Texas. For more on sustainable schools and their benefits, please see my previous blog post.

The final speaker was Michele Negley of CLEAResult, who talked about the water-energy nexus. She noted that while the electric power sector is a big user of water in its processes, power plants only actually consume ten percent of the water they use. Therefore, by using less energy, we use less water. The utility efficiency programs for the investor-owned utilities in the competitive areas in Texas have saved around 13 billion gallons of water by improving energy efficiency. That’s pretty remarkable. And it works both ways.

This legislative session, there is a great deal of attention focused on drought and water shortages, and on electric resource adequacy. My hope is that the two camps make strides to better align their goals in a way that makes addressing both water and energy efficiency the most, well, efficient.

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