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GAO says federal government needs to better manage energy/water tradeoffs

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U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Releases Report: "Energy-Water Nexus: Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs"

With the U.S. demand for water and energy projected to rise in coming decades, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies need to better coordinate policies related to energy and water, a recently released GAO report concludes. The report is the most recent in a series of GAO reports examining the nexus between energy and water. The report looks at the vast amounts of water used by the U.S. in energy production, from cooling thermoelectric power plants to the growth of feedstocks for biofuel production to oil and gas extraction. It also examines how water and energy are inextricably linked in the treatment of drinking water and wastewater. The GAO report noted several factors likely to affect future supply and demand for both energy and water, including climate change, population growth, and demographic shifts.


Why GAO Did This Study

Water and energy are inextricably linked and mutually dependent, with each affecting the other’s availability. Since 2009, GAO has issued five reports on the interdependencies between energy and water. These reports have shown that a considerable amount of water is used to cool thermoelectric power plants, grow feedstocks and produce biofuels, and extract oil and natural gas. Some of these sources of energy may also negatively affect water quality. In addition, developing oil and gas resources can produce wastewater—known as “produced water”—that must be managed or treated. Conversely, significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas.

GAO was asked to identify key energy-water nexus issues that Congress and federal agencies need to consider when developing and implementing national policies for energy and water resources. To conduct this work, GAO systematically reviewed its five reports to identify key nexus issues. GAO also used a content analysis of related literature and interviews with specialists to validate these themes.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that DOE take the actions necessary to establish a program to address the energy-water nexus, with involvement from other federal agencies, as described in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. DOE agreed with the recommendation and stated that it will work with other federal agencies and experts to implement it.