The Demand for Water

The Demand for Water
NGPWC region showing the locations of key energy, agricultural, and industrial facilities.
Water is the most critical limiting resource throughout the world. Sustainable economic growth requires a reliable supply of water for energy, agriculture, and a growing population. Water is necessary for urban development, power production, growing and processing high-value crops, oil and gas development and processing, and industrial manufacturing. Satisfying all of these competing needs requires a better understanding of water resources and new approaches to water management. Energy, agriculture, industry, and municipalities all urgently need a scientifically valid basis upon which to make management and regulatory decisions related to water use and quality.

The Northern Great Plains Water Consortium® (NGPWC) is a partnership between the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and key energy-producing entities in the northern Great Plains to address issues related to water availability, reducing freshwater use, and minimizing the impacts of facility and industry operations on water quality. The key goals of the NGPWC are:
  • To evaluate water demand and consumption from competing users in the northern Great Plains region, including energy production, agriculture, industry, and domestic/municipal users.
  • To assess, develop, and demonstrate technologies and methodologies that minimize water use and reduce wastewater discharge from energy production and agricultural processing facilities.
  • To identify nontraditional water supply sources and innovative options for water reuse.

Thinking Outside the Box to Address Water Issues
As the United States continues to pursue economic development and the population increases, demand for ever-increasing amounts of energy to support that growth will require water. In areas where water resources are limited or become scarce because of overallocation and/ or drought, competing interests for water could limit energy development and production. With the vibrant oil, gas, and utility interests in the region, potential water reuse synergies among energy-related industries should be explored. For example, in 2005, thermoelectric power generation was the largest domestic user of water, accounting for nearly 41% of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States, as illustrated in the figure above. A portion of that cooling water effluent could be used in other industries. Significant volumes of water are also used in the drilling and completion of oil and gas wells. Wastewater from other industries could be used to supply water needed for drilling operations, and options may exist to treat and reuse the produced water from oil and gas operations. Finding innovative solutions that expand water resource options for the energy industries in the region is one of the key goals of the NGPWC.

Putting Regional Water Use in Perspective
The various industries and water users within the region often use different units of reference when referring to water consumption and discharge. To gain a perspective on the relationship between municipal, industrial, and agricultural water use, below are comparisons of some common units and examples of water use among the sectors.

The Demand for Water (PDF)