Water Supply Should Not Be an Obstacle To Meeting Energy Development Goals

CED-80-30: Published: Jan 24, 1980. Publicly Released: Jan 24, 1980.

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Alternative energy technologies, such as oil shale development, coal gasification, geothermal power generation, coal liquifaction, and coal slurry lines were heralded as key contributors to the Nation's energy independence and were expected to consume lots of water. Consequently, many reports predicted that the Nation's quest for energy and mineral independence will stimulate a prolonged thirst for water and will virtually exhaust all unused water in the mineral-rich, water-short West. However, recent evidence indicates that these predictions are unfounded or outdated and that adequate water is available for energy development through at least the year 2000.

Slower growth of energy use and increased reuse of water have reduced the need to divert water from other uses. New production techniques and experience have demonstrated that individual plant requirements are as much as 50 percent less than anticipated. Demand for federal project water by energy developers has fallen off, leaving reservoirs with undelivered and apparently unwanted water. Uncertainties exist about the extent of energy development, the future of reclamation projects, environmental requirements, reserved water, and project development delays. However, these uncertainties only limit the number of sites where development can occur. Since water requirements are modest and water supplies are large and scattered, water supply problems in one location will just result in new site selection. One new technology, transportation of coal through slurry pipelines, offers the promise of actually decreasing water consumption in water-short areas. The most common sources for additional water for energy development probably will be development of new storage facilities, procurement of water rights, or procurement of water stored in federal reservoirs. Federal reservoirs could provide much of the supply needed for development and that would mean additional revenue which would speed repayment of federal costs for building the projects without the environmental, social, and political problems implicit in new construction.

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