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The Last Straw: Water Use by Power Plants in the Arid West

April 1, 2002

Fossil-fueled power plants are widely recognized as major sources of air pollutants that damage human health and the environment. But they also have a significant impact on water, both as large users and polluters. Water has always been scarce in the West and subject to fierce competition between various users, such as irrigators, industries and cities. Due to widespread drought conditions, water is becoming increasingly valuable and its use increasingly contentious. As a result, Western communities are now reassessing how best to use this vital resource.

This paper, co-authored by the Clean Air Task Force and the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, describes practical opportunities to significantly reduce both water use and water quality impacts from power generation. It examines the close relationship between power generation and water, including water use effects on competing uses, water quality and power system reliability.

The report sets out an action agenda that covers fossil-fuel generation, renewable energy and energy efficiency. If implemented, this agenda will minimize the impacts from water used for power generation, while ensuring power system reliability, conserving scarce water resources, and protecting rivers, streams and groundwater from unnecessary discharges.