The Water Footprint of California’s Energy System, 1990–2012

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A new article by Julian Fulton and  Heather Cooley  evaluates the amount of water consumed in meeting California’s energy needs – also referred to as the water footprint of energy. The article, published in Environmental Science and Technology, examines how the water footprint of energy changed between 1990 and 2012 – finding that the amount of water consumed substantially increased over recent decades without utilizing more of the state’s water resources, but rather by relying more heavily on water resources from outside the state. Much of that increase is attributable to the production of bioethanol, which recent energy policies have promoted to meet state greenhouse gas targets. Fulton and Cooley demonstrate that while efforts to mitigate climate change in California have been successful in reducing greenhouse gases, these policies may have shifted burdens from energy to water, rather than alleviate them. They conclude that more integrated analysis and planning of water and energy systems are needed to ensure that climate adaptation and mitigation strategies do not work at cross purposes.

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