The carbon footprint of water unearthed

If you use water, you use energy. It happens with every turn of the faucet, every flush of the toilet and every pot of coffee you make.

Idaho Rivers United released a report today detailing how large amounts of gas and electricity are required to treat, pump, distribute and heat domestic water in Idaho’s Treasure Valley–and what communities can do to extend existing energy supplies. By improving building design and water efficiency we will reduce our regional carbon footprints, protect water resources, strengthen the economy and save money.

The report, “Treasure Valley Energy Outlook: Why Domestic Water Use Matters,” is based on data collected from 15 domestic water providers in the Treasure Valley and finds that more than an equivalent of 1 billion kilowatt hours of energy is embedded in domestic water in the Treasure Valley each year. That’s enough for each of the Treasure Valley’s residents to run a 50-inch plasma TV, refrigerator and desktop computer and monitor for a year. Producing this much energy produces 265,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide–a considerable carbon footprint.

“People don’t connect water and energy, but if you run warm water from your sink faucet for five minutes you use as much energy as you would leaving a 75-watt light on for 16 hours,” said report author Liz Paul, IRU’s Boise River campaign coordinator. “The effects of global warming can be seen today in the Boise River and other Idaho rivers. There is less healthy habitat for trout and salmon, summer flows are warmer and lower, and increasingly frequent forest fires are causing soil to erode into our rivers.”

Of particular note, the report finds that heating water for household use is the most energy-intensive step in the domestic water use cycle. Hot water uses 68 times more energy than cold water.

“The good news is that there are many ways to cut back on the amount of hot water people use, as well as reduce the amount of energy used to heat water,” Paul said. “The best news is that it costs less to save energy that way than through traditional energy efficiency programs–like the kind in use by Idaho Power.”

Installing efficient toilets, clothes washers, showers and faucets, and insulating hot water pipes are only a few of the ways energy use can be reduced by focusing on water. Idaho Rivers United recommends that Idaho Power and others in the energy sector work more closely with those in water and building industries to deliver near-term energy savings.