By now most people are all too familiar with the extended drought in the American Southwest. Pictures of wildfires in California, decimated agricultural lands and the effects of a diminishing water supply regularly make the news. What most people might not know, yet just as devastating, is the potential effect of the 14-year drought in the Colorado River basin on the Southwest’s energy supply.
Hydropower facilities and thermoelectric power plants rely on a rushing Colorado River to provide the more than 19,200 megawatts of power that facilitates the energy needs of individuals and industry across the West. This power could be in jeopardy as reservoir and river levels dip to historic lows. Lake Mead is currently at 39 percent capacity.
Changes in water supply directly affect power systems in the West, and we watch closely as low water levels in Lake Mead could have an impact on the amount of energy generated from the Hoover Dam. On the other side of the coin, energy is needed to transport and treat water throughout the West, especially in California, where 20 percent of the state’s energy use is for water-related purposes.
This pivotal subject of the water-energy nexus was well covered at the recent Business of Water 2.0 summit in Las Vegas, hosted by business coalition Protect the Flows. The summit attracted a roster of influential speakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.), and more than 150 corporations, water agencies and business associations, including General Electric Water & Process Technologies, all laser-focused on sustainable water management in the face of limited water supplies.
Despite the troubling low water levels in the Colorado River basin, I am enthused about the role business innovation and technology can play in addressing the Southwest’s water and energy challenges. Many companies highlighted what they are doing to capitalize on reuse situations in their respective industries. GE presented its achievements related to our Ecomagination water goals, where we have reduced freshwater use by 45 percent since 2006 and have implemented energy efficiency wastewater treatment technologies that allow water to be reused in the Las Vegas area and across the globe.
But to make a lasting impact on effective water management solutions, businesses must also address the need for key elected officials to advance sustainable water policy that focuses on incentivizing water innovation, efficiency and conservation. We can’t do it alone. We absolutely need Congress, federal and state officials and other decision-makers to help us innovate and drive water-saving technologies. As we strive to “do more with less,” we look around and see policy and regulatory barriers that still exist, disincentives for more efficient use of water and the use of more recycled water. And planning between the energy and water sectors remains disconnected, despite the close interdependence of the two.
We ask that water policy decision-makers at all levels support us in our efforts to reduce water consumption in all phases of our businesses. With the right incentives and investments in decisions and planning, we know that the complexities of energy and water can be properly addressed, allowing the business sector to thrive in this new environment and make life easier and more rewarding for the customers we serve.
Freedman is Global Government Affairs Leader for GE Water & Process Technologies. He monitors and shapes domestic and international water policies and helps GE Power & Water develop technology collaborations with government entities.