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Future power generation could further endanger water supplies

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New Study Finds Renewables and Efficiency Can Steeply Lower Water Use, Carbon Emissions

WASHINGTON – The country stands at a critical moment when it can dramatically lower the power industry’s draw on the nation’s strained water supply by replacing its aging power plants with water-smart options like renewable energy and efficiency, according to a study released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists-led (UCS) Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3). The report warns that continuing down a business-as-usual path will place a heavy burden on the nation’s overly-taxed water resources.

“Making low-carbon, water-smart choices is a high-stakes effort. The choices we make in the near term to define the power sector of this century will affect water resources, our climate and long-term hydrology, and the power sector’s long-term resilience,” said Peter Frumhoff, UCS's director of science and policy and chair of the project’s Scientific Advisory Committee. “We set electricity and water on a collision course years ago. Now we must build a power system hard-wired not for risk, but for resilience.”

More than 40 percent of U.S. freshwater withdrawals are used for power plant cooling. These plants also lose several billion gallons of freshwater every day through evaporation. Further, increasing demand and drought are putting a greater strain on water resources. Low water levels and high water temperatures can cause power plants to cut their electricity output in order to avoid overheating or harming local water bodies. Such energy and water collisions can leave customers with little or no electricity or with added costs because their electric supplier has to purchase power from elsewhere, as occurred during the past two summers.

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