published on September 9, 2021 - 1:35 PM
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A new report finds that carbon emissions associated with water usage in California are likely to spike in coming years due to changing sources and population growth.

The new report, “The Future of California’s Water-Energy-Climate Nexus,” was commissioned by nonprofit think tank Next 10 and was written by researchers at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank advocating for sustainable water policies.

Droughts fueled by climate change are expected to increase water-related energy use and carbon emissions.

The report finds that ongoing population growth and water challenges are prompting urban water planners to pursue new water-supply options including desalination and recycling, which typically require more energy than traditional water sources like surface water.

“Managing California’s water system requires an enormous amount of energy. Water shortages, like the record-breaking drought we’re experiencing today, make the job of supplying water to millions of Californians and to our state’s agricultural sector even more challenging and energy-intensive,” said F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10. “We could face a substantial increase in water sector carbon emissions in the coming years if we fail to implement water efficiency measures.”

The report claims that if California fails to implement urban conservation measures and per-capita water demand is maintained at current levels, statewide urban water demand would increase 24% by 2035, spurring a 21% increase in annual water-related electricity use and 25% increase in annual natural gas use.

Implementing comprehensive water conservation and efficiency efforts could deliver substantial climate benefits, including the reduction of water-related electricity usage by 19%, natural gas usage by 16% and water-related climate emissions by 41% cumulatively by 2035, according to the report.

The authors of the report identify specific water policy recommendations that could help the state meet its energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals:

–Expand urban water conservation and efficiency efforts

–Accelerate water heater electrification

–Maintain groundwater levels and expand more flexible, high-efficiency groundwater pumps

–Provide financial incentives and regulation for water suppliers to invest in greener water systems

–Expand and standardize water data reporting and energy usage tracking

–Formalize coordination between water and energy regulatory agencies about energy demand changes.


“California has been incredibly successful at reducing urban water usage over the last few decades. But the reality is, as climate-fueled drought wreaks havoc on our water systems, we have to do much more,” said Heather Cooley, lead author of the report and Director of Research at the Pacific Institute. “The good news is that these conservation measures will also help the state meet climate targets and deliver co-benefits like lower energy bills and healthier air quality.”

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