Water Footprint of Electricity

Flickr photo from bbcworldservice, used under Creative Commons license

Why should a watershed group be concerned about clean energy? Well, the answer is that traditional sources of electricity such as fossil fuels, hydroelectricity and nuclear use a lot of water.

Nuclear and fossil fuel-based, or thermoelectric, power generation accounts for 39% of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States, approximately the same amount as agriculture. Around 136 billion gallons of freshwater is withdrawn in the United States for thermoelectric power generation each day. Relying primarily on surface water, Thermoelectric power plants account for 53% of all fresh surface-water withdrawals. Hydroelectricity also results in large volumes of water loss due to evaporation from the surface of reservoir water.

With our nation's current mix electricity containing mostly traditional sources of energy, every kWh of electricity uses approximately 40 gallons of freshwater. By switching to clean energy alternatives such as PV solar and wind - which use virtually no water to produce power - we can save water and reduce water pollution. To see a comparison of the water footprint of different power sources, see the chart on the right.