In the Middle of a Drought, We Are 'Burning' Our Rivers

08/14/2012 04:17 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2012

You are the kind of environmentally conscientious energy-user who thinks about the impact that usage has on our planet, including the air we breathe, our carbon footprint, not to mention those energy bills. You pay attention to the monthly cost to power your home in kilowatt hours, and dollars and cents, but did you know that the cost of energy also should be measured in the amount of our precious water resources used in its production? If our monthly electric bills had a line item for the amount of water typically used to create the electricity that lights our homes, runs our computers and powers our TV sets we would see an astounding 40,000 gallons.

That's a lot of water, particularly when we are experiencing severe drought and, worse, much of this water is wasted in out-of-date cooling towers used by many coal-burning utility companies. In order to keep us from "Burning our Rivers," (and no, that's not a reference to Cleveland's long ago fire on the Cuyahoga), River Network has issued a timely report which synthesizes research on our country's thirst for water by households and the power industry. Among the findings is the fact that for every gallon of residential water used, five times more than that will be used to provide that home with electricity produced by fossil fuel plants or hydropower.

The report recommends a two-pronged approach to lowering the amount of water consumed in the production of electricity: investment in more efficient cooling technology and increased use of windpower and solar photovoltaics. As River Network President Todd Ambs said, "Fossil fuel power plants don't just pollute the air. Cooling towers are also a very inefficient and environmentally detrimental use of our increasingly strained water resources."

Although water resources are used in the manufacturing of solar photovoltaics, according to the report, once in place they produce power with minimal water usage. (They do need to be washed from time to time during their 30 year life cycle.) Wind power also produces real water savings. The report cites the Department of Energy estimate of a 4 trillion gallon water saving if 20 percent of our nation's electrical power is produced by wind by the year 2030. Speeding the replacement of out-of-date cooling towers and making solar photovoltaic and windpower more attractive options will help protect our water, air, and global temperature. I encourage you to read, "Burning our Rivers, The Water Footprint of Electricity," to learn more about these and other policy recommendations at,. And the next time you flip that light switch, remember, nearly 40 gallons of water were used to produce one kilowatt hour of fossil-fuel produced electricity. .