Connecting Water and Energy
As Rio Grande Water Conservation District General Manager Steve Vandiver once said at a San Luis Valley Sustainable Energy Plan steering committee meeting, “There isn’t much that happens here in the Valley that isn’t connected to water or water shortages.”
That holds so true when considering water and energy interconnections at home and in the workplace, in agricultural production and in decisions about developing local energy resources.
At home and in the workplace
Two important opportunities for energy conservation at home and in many workplaces are related to water: hot water heating efficiency and use, and introducing humidity.
Hot water heating is the second largest home energy expense, nationally averaging about 18 percent of an electric bill. There are several no- or low-cost, simple tasks all families and coworkers can do to save energy, water and money: Set the water heater thermostat to 120ºF. Drain the sediment from the hot water heater every three months. Insulate water pipes. Fix leaky faucets and toilets, and install low-flow showerheads. Make sure showerheads have a handle to turn water off while soaping up or shampooing. Run dishwashers only when full. Use cold water laundry detergent (it works well!).
Two higher cost investments are replacing an older tank water heater with a very efficient on-demand or tankless water heater, and installing a solar hot water system. Before investing in either, though, a homeowner or business manager should consider that roof and crawl space insulation gives a better long-term return on investment.
Homes and workplaces are cheaper to heat, and more comfortable too, with a little humidity. Humid air feels warmer, so the thermostat can be set a few degrees lower. By adding humidity to living and work spaces, people feel healthier too: fewer sore throats, dry skin, bloody noses and dry eyes.
There are several healthy ways to add a little humidity: Let steam from morning showers vent into the house, not out the roof through a fan. Simmer a nice pot of homemade soup. Grow indoor plants. Air-dry laundry most of the time. (Amazingly enough, air-dried towels feel spa-like.) Set a pot of water on your wood burning stove, or purchase a stand-alone whole house humidifier. For those who have a central heating, perhaps a humidifier can be attached to the furnace?
One of the first chapters of A Sustainable Energy Plan for the San Luis Valley provides an assessment of historical energy consumption data provided by the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op and Xcel Energy. As one might expect in our agriculture-dominated economy and environment, center pivot irrigators are by far the most significant energy consumers.
The amount of energy used by center pivots is controllable by managing the efficiency of the irrigation system itself, as well as water scheduling. And water demand is significantly influenced not just by the choice of crops produced, but also soil health.
Energy resource development
The very first recommendation in A Sustainable Energy Plan for the San Luis Valley relates to water: Stewardship of the quantity and quality of the Valley’s water supply is critical to its economic vitality and human health. As such, policy makers and regulators protect water supply and water quality in their decisions to develop traditional energy resources, such as oil and gas, as well as renewable energy resources.
Earlier this year a headline story described how northeast Colorado farmers now compete with oil and gas drillers and frackers in bidding for scarce water supplies. Farmers lost several bids to new water demands this spring.
Individuals can shift this new water dynamic and affect overall demand for fuel by driving and maintaining energy efficient vehicles and matching vehicles, farm equipment and motors to their tasks.
On a personal note, I made a commitment, as an undergraduate student and native Motown girl, during the Middle East oil embargo days: Always drive a vehicle that gets no less that 25 mpg. Over the ensuing 30 years, I violated that commitment just once, to lease a 16 mpg SUV, with visions of camping weekends at a moment’s notice dancing in my head.
In reality, I worked harder than I played those two years, stabilizing and growing a watershed organization, and got to camp only the first and last weekends of the lease. Since then I have been able to pack all my gear into my next vehicle, a three-door hatchback. When I think of the gas and money I could have saved with a vehicle that better matched my commuter lifestyle at the time…
As a fossil fuel alternative, one of the most viable biodiesel plants in the state is a joint project between Costilla County and the Economic Development Council there. The Mesita plant purchases locally grown canola to process into biodiesel that fuels a growing portion of the county Road and Bridge truck fleet each year. The biodiesel plant not only provides local jobs, but its canola cake byproduct is sold as a nutritious livestock feed supplement to local ranchers. With drought driving commodity prices high, demand for the cake exceeds supply, and cake sales help the biodiesel plant’s bottom line.
When considering renewable energy resource development here, solar farm developers quickly learn that water sustainability is a critical issue here. Project managers find that proposing no or low consumptive use solar technologies a wise business strategy.
Last summer, ditch companies and a water commissioner helped a Colorado State University grad student and Hydro Research Foundation fellow Brian Campbell organize site visits for his low-head hydropower development thesis field work. At a recent statewide microhydro conference, Campbell said the field data collected here was invaluable in scoping a geographic information system-based decision tool. That tool will help irrigation companies and engineers identify viable projects in the near future.
Hot springs along the eastern edge of the Valley provide visitors relaxing recreational experiences and the business owners with free heat. (Ahhh, the bliss of backstrokes in a heated pool as dawn breaks and cattle moo at Alamosa Ranch!) Already a strip mall/mobile home park development and a new school put these geothermal resources to good use as free space heating. As recently collected LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data gets digested over the next year or so, perhaps residents can better tap this resource.
People who live, work, play and study here in the San Luis Valley have the tools and creativity to make a difference in our energy and water futures.
Water 2012 in the Rio Grande Basin will be hosting a tour of the Rio Grande Reservoir on Saturday, July 14. They will also be hosting a tour of Platoro Reservoir on Saturday, July 28th. For more details on these events and to register, please visit www.rgwcei.org or water2012.org. Also, please visit Alamosa Public Library to see the Water 2012 traveling display, which debuted last week.