House Passes Bill to Improve Water and Energy Research Integration

Author: Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel

On December 1, 2009 the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3598, the Energy and Water Research Integration Act, a bill which seeks to “ensure consideration of water intensity in the Department of Energy's energy research, development, and demonstration programs to help guarantee efficient, reliable, and sustainable delivery of energy and water resources.”

A Senate version of this bill, the Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009, was introduced by Sens. Bingaman (D-NM) and Murkowski (R-AK) back in March. I think the Senate bill is still in committee.

The House bill is similar to the Senate version, both focusing on research into the water-energy nexus as opposed to concrete policies designed to address our water and energy challenges. While I think more research is definitely a good thing, the Department of Energy has already spent year's producing a still-unreleased Energy-Water Roadmap and I'm curious how this bill reconciles with the good work already completed by Michael Hightower and the other folks at Sandia National Laboratories.

Here’s some information from the Alliance for Water Efficiency’s Legislative Watch Page on the Energy and Water Research Integration Act (H.R. 3598):

The Energy and Water Research Integration Act passed by a voice vote. H.R.3598 was introduced by Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) on September 17, 2009. This bill directs the Secretary of Energy, in coordination with other relevant federal agencies, to establish the Energy-Water Architecture Council (EWAC) to provide improved energy and water resource data collection, reporting, and the technological innovation.

"H.R. 3598 addresses the critical linkage between our nation's energy and water resources by directing the Department of Energy to better integrate water into existing federal energy research efforts," stated Gordon. "In the last Congress, the Committee undertook a comprehensive review of federal research and technology development efforts focused on improving utilization of our precious water resources. We have since held five hearings and passed three bills pertaining to this important topic out of the House."

"Demand for energy and water resources is stressing the environment and our economy. Innovation in technologies which address the nexus between these two resources is critical to the future of our country. This legislation takes important steps to deal with these challenges," said Energy and Environment Subcommittee Vice Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY), who managed the bills on the floor.

This legislation is the product of several recommendations from the Committee's hearings on water and reports from the National Academies, the Government Accountability Office, the National Science Technology Council, and the Department of Energy (DOE). In addition, this bill has been endorsed by the Water Innovations Alliance, NanoH2O Inc., and the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

Click here to read the complete text of Energy and Water Research Integration Act (H.R. 3598).

One of the primary outcomes from the H.R. 3598 will be a strategic plan produced by the Secretary of Energy. The focus appears to be on reducing the water demands required for energy development, although there are a few lines in the bill that explicitly address the energy required for water distribution and collection systems.

Once the strategic plan is produced, H.R. 3598 appropriates $60 million to the Secretary of Energy to implement the plan.

Another major aspect of the Energy and Water Research Integration Act is the creation of an "Energy-Water Architecture Council" which will "promote and enable improved energy and water resource data collection, reporting, and technological innovation." The four functions of the Council outlined in H.R. 3598 include:

(1) make recommendations on the development of data collection and data communication standards and protocols to agencies and entities currently engaged in collecting the data for the energy required to provide water supplies and the water required to provide reliable energy supplies throughout the United States;

(2) recommend ways to make improvements to Federal water use data to increase understanding of trends in energy generation and fuel production;

(3) recommend best practices for utilizing information from existing monitoring networks to provide nationally uniform water and energy use and infrastructure data; and

(4) conduct annual technical workshops, including at least one regional workshop annually, to facilitate information exchange among Federal, State, and private sector experts on technologies that encourage the conservation and efficient use of water and energy.

While the creation of this council seems like a good idea, it is unclear to me if the council will have any teeth and if its recommendations concerning data collection will actually be implemented. There is $60 million dedicated for the Secretary of Energy to integrate water considerations into DOE research and demonstration projects, but only $5 million for the council.

We already know that it would be a great idea for water and wastewater service providers to report the energy intensity factor of each unit of water delivered or unit of wastewater treated, by source or facility and time of year. We also know it would be a good idea to require improved reporting of the water withdrawn and consumed by power projects. So why wait to begin collecting this information?

Back in March, the Senate held hearings on the water-energy nexus and the importance of integration across the energy and water sectors. A number of experts - including Dr. Michael Webber and Dr. Peter Gleick - gave testimonies. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people who gave testimonies in March end up on the shortlist for the Energy-Water Architecture Council. Click here to read the Congressional testimonies from water-energy experts.

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