Energy-Water Nexus: Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs
Highlights –

What GAO Found

As GAO’s past work has shown, and other studies and specialists have confirmed, there are a number of key energy-water nexus issues that Congress and federal agencies need to consider when developing and implementing national policies for energy and water resources. Specifically:

  • Location greatly influences the extent to which energy and water affect one another. For example, as GAO reported in November 2009, the impact of increased biofuel production on water resources will depend on where the feedstock is grown and whether or not irrigation is required. Consequently, it is important for Congress and federal agencies to consider the effects that national energy production and water use policies can have at the local level.
  • Although technologies and approaches exist to reduce the impact of energy development on water resources and reduce the energy needed to move, use, and treat water, their widespread adoption is inhibited by barriers such as economic feasibility and regulatory challenges. In implementing energy and water policies, Congress and federal agencies will also need to be cognizant of the barriers when deciding whether to promote the adoption of these technologies and approaches.
  • Making effective policy choices will continue to be challenging without more comprehensive data and research. GAO’s past work has identified the need for more data and research related to the energy-water nexus, for example, to better understand hydrological processes, including aquifer recharge rates and groundwater movement. In the absence of such data and research, developing and implementing effective policies could continue to be a challenge for Congress and federal agencies.
  • Improved energy and water planning will require better coordination among federal agencies and other stakeholders. GAO’s work has demonstrated that energy and water planning are generally “stove-piped,” with decisions about one resource made without considering impacts to the other resource. Improved planning will require federal agencies to work with one another and other stakeholders, such as state and local agencies, academia, industry, and environmental groups. Congress and some agencies have taken steps to improve coordination, but these actions are incomplete or in their early stages. For example, in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a federal program to address the energy-water nexus, but DOE has not done so.
  • Uncertainties affecting energy and water resources cannot be ignored because they could significantly affect the future supply and demand of both resources. For example, specialists GAO talked to and literature GAO reviewed identified climate change, population growth, and demographic shifts as significant uncertainties expected to exacerbate the challenges associated with managing both the supply and demand of water and energy. These uncertainties must, therefore, be accounted for when developing national policies that affect both of these resources.

Why GAO Did This Study

Water and energy are inextricably linked and mutually dependent, with each affecting the other’s availability. Since 2009, GAO has issued five reports on the interdependencies between energy and water. These reports have shown that a considerable amount of water is used to cool thermoelectric power plants, grow feedstocks and produce biofuels, and extract oil and natural gas. Some of these sources of energy may also negatively affect water quality. In addition, developing oil and gas resources can produce wastewater—known as “produced water”—that must be managed or treated. Conversely, significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas.

GAO was asked to identify key energy-water nexus issues that Congress and federal agencies need to consider when developing and implementing national policies for energy and water resources. To conduct this work, GAO systematically reviewed its five reports to identify key nexus issues. GAO also used a content analysis of related literature and interviews with specialists to validate these themes.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that DOE take the actions necessary to establish a program to address the energy-water nexus, with involvement from other federal agencies, as described in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. DOE agreed with the recommendation and stated that it will work with other federal agencies and experts to implement it.

For more information, contact Anu K. Mittal at (202) 512-6100 or or Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or

Biochar, Bio-benefits?

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

It’s hard to tell just from looking at the three identical garden plots on the north end of campus that the soil they’re planted in might hold one of the key pieces in the “how can we make biofuels sustainable?” puzzle.

The plots are one of three initiatives assigned to Minnesota researchers as part of an eight-state, multi-institution, five-year research project known as CenUSA that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and aimed at answering the big questions around biofuels. The goal is to evaluate the economic and environmental performance of the entire biofuel system—from what kinds of soils and grass varieties grow the best material for fuel, to farm safety, to transportation logistics, and to fuel production—ultimately to make recommendations for growing a sustainable biofuels industry. Researchers are also exploring what to do with the biochar, a byproduct of the pyrolysis process that turns biomass like switchgrass into fuel.

How California is harnessing P2 to make safer products

The latest P2 Pathways column focuses on California’s product stewardship efforts, including a proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulation.

Fort Collins Bike Library rolls into transition

Read the full story in the Coloradoan.

Getting more people on bikes is the goal of B-cycle and the newer ViaCycle, both of which were on display Oct. 5 for the public to check out.

Both of the bike-sharing companies operate off of the same concept, which is providing a community with a fleet of bikes they can rent, ride around town and return to a station or bike rack.

If it sounds similar to the current Bike Library in Old Town, that is on purpose. The two companies would be the next generation of the current Bike Library, and with funding in question after this year, the city is looking at the best course of action moving forward.

Social Acceptance of Wind Energy Webinar

Wednesday, October 17 at 3 p.m. ET (1 p.m. MT)

Audio Access
Toll-free #: 800-988-9387
Toll #: 1-773-756-4665
Participant passcode: 5263973

Web Access

If you have trouble with the above link, try going to this website and enter the information separately:
Conference number: RW9341550
Audience passcode: 5263973

This free webinar is part of the Energy Department’s Wind Powering America 2012 webinar series. Join Eric Lantz of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pat Moriarty also of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Gundula Hubner of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, for an examination of the issues related to social acceptance of wind energy. This discussion will focus on recent research on stress effects of wind turbine obstruction lighting, including how this analysis approach may help quantify the impacts of other stress-related impacts of wind energy development. It will also include details of current technology research focused on reducing wind turbine noise and the first public overview of recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory research on the potential market impact from radar, permitting, and wildlife. The webinar is free; no registration is required.