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Conserving Water Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A study, released earlier this year by the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), found that the reduction in water consumption in the state of California has also resulted in what was reported to be a “substantial reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

California experienced a four-year drought, which ended in 2016. In 2015, the state implemented regulations, requiring a 25 percent across-the-board cut in water consumption. A reduction in water consumption of this magnitude has implications that stretch beyond the water sector, reducing electricity consumption and, therefore, GHG emissions, according to the study.

The UC Davis team reported that the restrictions alone saved more than 525 million gallons of water during that one-year period. This was on top of voluntary cutbacks on water consumption, which began as soon as the drought was declared. How can a reduction in water consumption result in reductions in GHG emissions?

"It’s all because of the close interconnection between water and energy,” said Klaus Reichardt, CEO and founder of Waterless Co. Inc., manufacturers of no-water urinals. “It takes energy to treat and distribute water. If less water is being consumed and distributed, less electricity is needed, so fewer gas emissions are released.”

According to the researchers at UC Davis, this is precisely what happened. The study looks closely at the water-energy nexus in the state. They found that due to reduced water consumption and the need for electricity, there was a reduction of more than 521,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere in one year. That's the equivalent of taking 111,000 cars off the road for a year. The water conservation generated 1830 GWh of total electricity savings, consumed by investor-owned utility (IOU) or a public provider. The UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency created a companion website, called H2Open, so the public can examine the data and results from small scale, individual water utilities to the large scale, statewide summary.

"The scale of these integrated water-energy-GHG savings, achieved over such a short period, is remarkable,” said Frank Loge, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis and one of the authors of the study. “Our results provide strong support for including direct water conservation in the portfolio… for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.”