The U.S. Department of the Interior has just announced $24 million in funding for new water conservation projects in western states, some of which will also save energy, too. Proving once again that a little goes a long way, the funds will be split among 54 separate projects, and when you put them all together it adds up to more than 100,000 acre-feet per year. That’s enough to provide water for about 400,000 people. To put that into perspective, the population of mid-sized cities like Tulsa, Cleveland and Miami is a little under 400,000. As a group, the projects demonstrate that an infinitesimal amount of federal funding (compared to say, the Iraq war) can have a significant impact on the ability of the U.S. to sustain future growth – a far different approach than the one currently being advocated by certain penny wise, pound foolish legislators at both the state and federal levels.
The new grants are part of the Interior Department’s WaterSMART program, established in February 2010. The initiative was designed to pull together the Department’s various resources, lead by the Bureau of Reclamation, to help states deal with “drought, climate change, growing populations, energy demands and basic environmental needs [that] are stressing our finite water and energy supplies,” according to the department’s press release. Specifically, the focus is on projects that involve energy efficiency and alternative energy.
Water Conservation: Low Tech, High Tech
Many of the projects involve relatively inexpensive improvements that use conventional technology. One example is an irrigation company in Washington State, which will simply replace open ditches with pipes. By preventing seepage loss, the savings will amount to about 7,850 acre-feet of water, along with saving 4.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity due to reduced demand on pumped water. As an example of the high tech approach, an irrigation district in California will install use online GIS to save an estimated 11,500 acre-feet annually.
USDA Water Conservation Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a small-scale grant program that can yield big savings for water and energy combined, called Conservation Innovation Grants. One example is a new hydro-powered irrigation system invented by a farmer, which will replace a diesel-powered system. He estimates that the annual operating cost of the hydro system will be about $100, compared to $3,500 to operate his previous system under today’s diesel prices.
Water Conservation and Households
As a group, the projects indicate the tremendous potential for saving both energy and water when it comes to suppliers and major users such as farms. As for individual households, that is still a bottleneck. Last year the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report that showed total water use in the U.S. has actually declined or remained stable over the past 25 years, despite a 30 percent increase in population. However, when you break that down, it turns out that there has been significant, improved conservation in agriculture and power generation, while residential use has increased steadily.
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Image: Water fountains by krossbow
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.