News Feature | October 18, 2016

Water-Energy Nexus Registry Approved In California

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new California law encourages water utilities to collect emissions data as part of an effort to bring more transparency to the enormous amount of power gobbled up by water systems, which use 20 percent of the state’s electricity and 30 percent of its natural gas.

It is the latest effort to bring climate consciousness to the water industry and to confront the inextricable link between energy efficiency and water use, often referred to as the water-energy nexus.

Recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown, the Water-Energy Nexus Registry, created by California Senate Bill 1425, will require California environmental regulators to contract with a non-profit to encourage energy efficiency at water utilities on a voluntary basis through tools such as emissions baselines.

The bill is sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and was introduced by Democratic Senator Fran Pavley, Water Online’s Peter Chawaga reported. The backdrop is that California is trying cut emissions and satisfy a commitment to draw half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, Water Online reported.

The legislation represents “a radical departure from how California has been addressing climate change. In effect, SB 1425 moves the focus from fossil fuels to water,” Frank Loge, director of the Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, wrote in an editorial in The Guardian.

Here’s how the legislation works, per a statement from Pavley’s office: “Participation in the registry will be voluntary, but participating entities will become eligible to participate in greenhouse gas-reduction incentive programs. The registry would also encourage activities, such as the use of renewable energy, that reduce the carbon intensity of the state’s water system and help publicize the actions of agencies that take voluntary action to do so.”

Energy use in the water industry exists in something of a black box in California and other states.

“There is very little information about what energy sources are used to provide water services,” Juliet Christian-Smith, a UCS climate scientist, said, per Water Online. “Therefore, it remains difficult to fully understand the climate change pollution associated with water use, since it varies greatly depending on whether clean energy or fossil fuels are used to provide water and wastewater services.”

Pavley, who wrote the bill, framed the legislation as a transparency measure in a release celebrating its approval.

“There is an enormous amount of energy embedded in our water supply,” she said. “This voluntary registry will for the first time provide for a clear accounting of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the water system, and provide water suppliers, distributors and end users the information they need to do their part in voluntarily advancing our climate goals.”

Advocates say legislation like this could encourage water utilities to support sustainable energy policies rather than view them as an additional burden at a time when the industry already faces deep cost pressures.

Loge wrote in The Guardian: “Making a strong connection between energy and water savings will help persuade policy makers to fund more water conservation efforts. This, in turn, will also nudge water utilities to share their data with the voluntary registry. Otherwise, water utilities will either raise water rates to fund those initiatives or absorb the expenses themselves. As a result, they can become reluctant to step up voluntary conservation efforts. To meet the 2015 state mandate to reduce urban water use by 25 percent over the 2013 levels, for example, water utilities had to pay, on average, $75 for every acre-foot saved.”