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Water increasingly crucial in energy policies, experts say

Nick Snow, Oil & Gas Journal
Energy policymakers worldwide should look beyond supply security and environmental questions and consider water resource availability if they expect to succeed, experts said May 3 during a forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"Water has become the Achilles heel of some energy projects," said M. Michael Hightower, head of the Water for Energy Project at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. "Many of the world’s energy resources are in very dry areas. We have to start coming up with solutions now," he said.

Supplies are growing increasingly scarce in many US basins, he noted during the forum, "The Thirsty Triangle: The Water Footprint of Energy Trade Between China, Canada, and the United States." Permits for some renewable and conventional energy facilities already have been denied because water supplies… weren’t available.
(13 May 2013)

Acidification: the latest unknown for stressed Arctic ecosystem

Alister Doyle, Reuters
The Arctic ecosystem, already under pressure from record ice melts, faces another potential threat in the form of rapid acidification of the ocean, according to an international study published on Monday.

Acidification, blamed on the transformation of rising levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air into carbonic acid in the sea, makes it harder for shellfish and crabs to grow their shells, and might also impair fish reproduction, it said.

Cold water absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warm water, making the Arctic especially vulnerable. The report said the average acidity of surface ocean waters worldwide was now about 30 percent higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution…
(6 May 2013)
Link to key findings

Rivers Carry Away Waste Heat Form Power Plants at a Cost to the Environment

Staff, daily fusion
Two computer models developed by the scientists from the University of New Hampshire show a detailed picture of how thermal power stations interact with climate, hydrology, and aquatic ecosystems. For example, models suggest that while rivers serve as “horizontal cooling towers” that provide an important service to the regional electricity sector, this comes at a cost to the environment.

The analysis, done in collaboration with colleagues from the City College of New York (CCNY) and published online in the current journal Environmental Research Letters, highlights the interactions among electricity production, cooling technologies, hydrologic conditions, aquatic impacts and ecosystem services, and can be used to assess the full costs and tradeoffs of electricity production at regional scales and under changing climate conditions.

Lead authors of the study are Robert Stewart of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) and Wilfred Wollheim of the department of natural resources and environment and EOS.

Thermoelectric power plants boil water to create steam that in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. They provide 90 percent of the electricity consumed nationwide and an even a greater percentage in the Northeast—a region with a high density of power plants.

Cooling the waste heat generated during the process requires that prodigious volumes of water be withdrawn and makes the thermoelectric sector the largest user of freshwater in the U.S.—withdrawing more than the entire, combined agricultural sector. [Editor’s note: Recently we have published an article about an innovative power plant dry cooling technology that could solve this problem.] Water withdrawals are either evaporated in cooling towers or returned to the river at elevated temperatures. Rivers can help mitigate these added heat loads through the ecosystem services of conveyance, dilution, and attenuation — essentially acting as horizontal cooling towers as water flows downstream.

Says Stewart, a research scientist in the EOS Earth Systems Research Center, “Our modeling shows that, of the waste heat produced during the production of electricity, roughly half is directed to vertical, evaporative cooling towers while the other half is transferred to rivers.”
(24 April 2013)
Link to report

Safe drinking water disappearing fast in Bangladesh

Syful Islam, Reuters via The Guardian
The availability of safe drinking water, particularly in Bangladesh’s hard to reach areas, is expected to worsen as the country experiences the effects of climate change, experts say.

According to a study by the World Bank’s water and sanitation programme (pdf), about 28 million Bangladeshis, or just over 20% of the population, are living in harsh conditions in the "hard-to-reach areas" that make up a quarter of the country’s landmass. The study found that char – land that emerges from riverbeds as a result of the deposit of sediments – is among the most inaccessible, along with hilly areas, coastal regions and haors – bowl-shaped wetland areas in north-east Bangladesh.

"People living in hard-to-reach areas are often vulnerable to natural calamities like flooding, riverbank erosion and siltation," said Rokeya Ahmed, a water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank. "As a result of climate change, salinity in Bangladesh’s coastal areas has increased [a great deal], causing a lack of sweet water. Women in coastal and haor areas need to go miles to collect a pitcher of safe drinking water."..
(7 May 2013)

Land O’ Lakes: Melting Glaciers Transform Alpine Landscape

Axel Bojanowski, Der Spiegel
Climate change is dramatically altering the Swiss Alps, where hundreds of bodies of water are being created by melting glaciers. Though the lakes can attract tourists and even generate electricity, local residents also fear catastrophic tidal waves.

In the 1990s, the first cracks began to appear in the mighty tongue of the Trift Glacier in the central Swiss canton of Bern. In 2002, the peak of the ice mass burst into thousands of pieces. Since it lay in a hollow, the water swelled into a lake rather than flowing out. The Trift Lake then became an attraction: Hundreds of tourists per day now visit the suspension bridge that hangs over this new body of water. "Many more people come to the glacier than before," says Wilfried Haeberli of Zürich University.

The geographer and his colleagues calculate that, in the coming years, hundreds of such lakes will come into being in the Swiss Alps alone…
(26 April 2013)

Our Earth Hangout: Clean Water for All

National Geographic
Learn about the state of the global water crisis from the experts working to solve the problem. Moderated by Billy Wilson and hosted by WHOLE WORLD Water, National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow Sandra Postel will provide crucial insight into freshwater issues around the globe.

(23 April 2013)

Water splash image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.