06/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Flaunt Those Energy and Water Savings

Generating energy usually requires tremendous amounts of water, while treating, heating and moving water from place to place takes a huge amount of energy. Unfortunately, few water managers and energy planners view this connection as an opportunity to work together.

The conservation of these intertwined and vital resources - water and energy - is not typically coordinated - but when it is, it's a winning strategy.

For example, a recent study conducted in Palm Desert, California focused on reducing household water consumption through the use of water meters. The Coachella Valley Water District specifically asked participants to reduce their water use at times of peak electricity use, when rates are at their highest.

In terms of water use, the pilot study was a success, because during peak times participants used 50 percent less water than the control group, and their total water use was 17 percent less. But only a hint about the pilot study's impact on energy use was given in a recent Green Inc. post:

The study did find that homeowners' actions cut the water district's peak electric use slightly, but whether or not the agency will build on this aspect of the study is unclear.

But wouldn't a decreased electricity bill, however minor, be a welcome bonus for the water district? In a state where 19 percent of electricity use is accounted for by water needs (treating, moving and using water), we couldn't let this half of the water-energy connection go unexplored. So a sneak peak at the pilot project's draft report - the final report is expected later this month - indicated that the energy savings for the Coachella Valley Water District, and other water providers that rely on pumped groundwater, may not be as insignificant as advertised.

Our unsolicited advice? The District should absolutely highlight this aspect of the study, regardless of the size of the energy and cost savings.

The electric and water utility Idaho Power pays farmers to not water their crops during summer afternoons. The utility is quick to point out that by reducing the amount of water that needs to be pumped to the farms during the time of peak electricity use, demand on the utility's grid can be reduced by more than five percent.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is helping municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities cut costs by funding energy-saving pilot projects that, at the same time, help these facilities exceed their water quality regulatory requirements. Such savings are essential for cash-strapped water and wastewater facilities because the costs to pump, treat, deliver and collect water can comprise up to one-third of a New York municipality's energy bill.

These are just three examples, but it appears that the days of tackling water and energy conservation separately may be numbered - energy and water managers and planners get along quite nicely!