Energy, Water and Fish: Biodiversity Impacts of Energy-Sector Water Demand in the United States Depend on Efficiency and Policy Measures

Robert I. McDonald, Julian D. Olden, Jeffrey J. Opperman, William M. Miller, Joseph Fargione, Carmen Revenga, Jonathan V. Higgins, Jimmie Powell

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22 Scopus citations


Rising energy consumption in coming decades, combined with a changing energy mix, have the potential to increase the impact of energy sector water use on freshwater biodiversity. We forecast changes in future water use based on various energy scenarios and examine implications for freshwater ecosystems. Annual water withdrawn/manipulated would increase by 18-24%, going from 1,993,000-2,628,000 Mm3 in 2010 to 2,359,000-3,271,000 Mm3 in 2035 under the Reference Case of the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Water consumption would more rapidly increase by 26% due to increased biofuel production, going from 16,700-46,400 Mm3 consumption in 2010 to 21,000-58,400 Mm3 consumption in 2035. Regionally, water use in the Southwest and Southeast may increase, with anticipated decreases in water use in some areas of the Midwest and Northeast. Policies that promote energy efficiency or conservation in the electric sector would reduce water withdrawn/manipulated by 27-36 m3GJ-1 (0.1-0.5 m3GJ-1 consumption), while such policies in the liquid fuel sector would reduce withdrawal/manipulation by 0.4-0.7 m3GJ-1 (0.2-0.3 m3GJ-1 consumption). The greatest energy sector withdrawal/manipulation are for hydropower and thermoelectric cooling, although potential new EPA rules that would require recirculating cooling for thermoelectric plants would reduce withdrawal/manipulation by 441,000 Mm3 (20,300 Mm3 consumption). The greatest consumptive energy sector use is evaporation from hydroelectric reservoirs, followed by irrigation water for biofuel feedstocks and water used for electricity generation from coal. Historical water use by the energy sector is related to patterns of fish species endangerment, where water resource regions with a greater fraction of available surface water withdrawn by hydropower or consumed by the energy sector correlated with higher probabilities of imperilment. Since future increases in energy-sector surface water use will occur in areas of high fish endemism (e.g., Southeast), additional management and policy actions will be needed to minimize further species imperilment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere50219
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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