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How Washington, D.C. and California are Advancing the Energy/Water Linkages

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water and wastewater utilities spend about 4 billion a year to pump, treat, deliver, collect, treat and clean water. This equates to an estimated 75 billion kWh of overall U.S. electricity demand. EPA and other groups predict that energy consumption by water and wastewater utilities will increase by more than 20% in the next 15 years due to increased populations and more stringent regulations.

Drinking water utilities are especially large users of electricity. There are approximately 60,000 community drinking water systems in the United States today. The majority of energy use by these utilities is for pumping water either from the source to the treatment plant or for pumping treated water to the customers. Pumping water from source to tap, uphill or against a pressure gradient, requires substantial amounts of energy. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, electricity consumption by pumping systems constitutes 90% of total energy use by water utilities. Energy usage is affected by many factors including water source, quality, storage, elevation, distance and age.

Drinking water utilities are facing an increasing wide-range of pressures, some of which can be attributed to climate change. Limited availability of new water supplies, impaired source water quality and increased water demand are a few of the major concerns as are higher energy costs associated with water treatment and conveyance. Energy costs have been steadily increasing due in part to stricter regulation of the industry by state and federal agencies as well as advent of new and more energy intensive water treatment technologies. Recent regulations that have resulted in an increase in energy usage at drinking water utilities include the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, the Stage 2 Disinfectant and Disinfection Byproducts Rule and the Ground Water Rule. It is anticipated that contribution of energy costs to water utility operating costs will only increase in the upcoming years due to the increased use of energy- intensive advanced treatment processes (e.g., membranes, ultraviolet disinfection) that can be used to remove emerging contaminants or to treat alternative water sources such as brackish/saline water for use as drinking water.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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