Energy production jeopardizes Idaho's rivers

BOISE, ID—Recognizing the fundamental link between energy production and water quantity and quality, two of Idaho’s environmental organizations are urging immediate action for energy and water security from the Department of Energy (DOE). 

The Snake River Alliance and Idaho Rivers United sent a letter today to Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, requesting the timely completion of a long overdue report on energy and water including policy recommendations to achieving energy and water security. The report and recommendations were mandated in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and have yet to be completed.

“We believe a comprehensive analysis of the national impact that current energy production has on water quality and quantity coupled with recommended actions to decrease the chronic negative impacts is long overdue. Sound energy and water policy can’t be developed, and our nation will not achieve energy or water security, until the nexus between water and energy is fully understood and management options carefully evaluated” the groups said. 

This summer Idaho is experiencing one of the most challenging water supply shortages in recent memory, while at the same time the state’s largest electric utility, Idaho Power, faced back-to-back records for electricity demand as daytime high temperatures persisted in triple digits.

Stream-flows in many basins, including the Snake River and Boise River basins that provide water to well over half the population, are predicted to be at record lows at the end of summer. Hydropower and water storage reservoirs throughout the state are also predicted to be at record low levels. Idaho’s electric utilities are openly discussing the impact of decreased water levels on Idaho’s hydropower system during times when power demand is at its highest. Idaho’s agricultural and recreation industries will also be hard hit. 

“Idahoans are increasingly becoming aware that demand for water is increasing and reliability is diminishing,” said Liz Woodruff, executive director of the Snake River Alliance. “Communities, recreation, agriculture, industry compete with hydropower for water and no one will win without integrated energy and water planning."

Approximately 45 percent of Idaho’s power comes from coal-fired power plants located outside of Idaho, so our air conditioners impact water quality and quantity throughout the region The Jim Bridger coal plant in Wyoming withdraws 42 million gallons of water a day from the Green River, which flows into the Colorado River. Mercury pollution from coal-fired power has impacted water quality in Idaho and throughout the region. 

While thermal electricity production is a major water consumer, 50 percent of Idaho’s power is generated from hydropower plants on Idaho’s rivers. 

“Hydropower is the thirstiest source of energy production there is,” explained Liz Paul, of Idaho Rivers United. “Almost 9 billion gallons of water is lost to daily evaporation from hydropower reservoirs nationwide. That is enough water to meet the daily needs of 50 million Americans. Idaho needs water smart energy and that’s why we’re asking the DOE to release recommendations to ensure integrated energy and water planning,” Paul continued.

With this letter the Snake River Alliance and Idaho Rivers United are joining a national effort, led by the Civil Society Institute (CSI), to make the energy and water nexus a key priority of the current Administration and the DOE. 

SRA and IRU’s letter to Energy Secretary Moniz finished by emphasizing the importance of national action on energy and water to protect Idaho’s economy:
“Clean, sustainable supplies of water are the lifeblood of Idaho agriculture – a major part of Idaho’s economy that generated cash receipts of $5.73 billion in 2010. Current energy policy is a dead end for Idaho’s rivers – new policy that ensures access to clean and sustainable supplies of water is needed now.”