Bob Perciasepe’s prepared remarks at the One Water Leadership Summit







SEPTEMBER 15, 2014


Thank you for inviting me to the One Water Leadership Summit. This conference brings together people with a wide range of experience and expertise. We have experts here on water systems, sustainability, transportation, recreation, agriculture, and energy. We have people representing business, nonprofits, and local, state, and federal government.

I can’t stress enough the importance of bringing together such a diverse audience because we need broad thinking to address the challenges that face us and find ways for our environment and our economy to thrive.

And that’s why I’m so excited to be leading the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. C2ES, as we call it, has built a reputation in this country and around the world for bringing together diverse interests to find common ground and practical climate and energy solutions.

We’re known as an unbiased source of information, a trusted convener, and a catalyst for business engagement in efforts to reduce the emissions contributing to climate change and deal with the impacts we’re already experiencing.

As some of you may know, I’ve worked in nonprofits and I’ve worked in government at the city, state, and federal level. My first job at EPA, back in 1993, was as the assistant administrator for water. During that time, Congress voted to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA implemented the new provisions lawmakers set forth, including more protective health standards for drinking water quality, more public information about the quality of tap water, and improved local infrastructure through a multi-billion-dollar revolving loan fund.

Over the past few decades, our nation has made progress in improving sewage treatment, implementing water conservation measures, and keeping harmful chemicals and fertilizers out of our streams and rivers.

But one look at the news tells you we still have plenty of room for improvement.

We’ve seen large dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and other waterways where algae blooms suck all of the oxygen from the water, killing fish.

In Toledo last month, half a million people couldn’t drink the water coming out of the tap, or even bathe in it, because of toxic algae in Lake Erie. As pollution continues to flow into our waterways and climate change heats up the water, we’re brewing a toxic stew.

In Missouri and Kansas, water is also in the news. Kansas is borrowing millions to dredge reservoirs, and is grappling with how to manage the Ogallala Aquifer. Aging water mains have been cracking this summer from Joplin to St. Louis, and here in Kansas City last week some homeowners were without tap water for days.

If you are talking about climate change, inevitably you are talking about water. The impacts of climate on our water systems represent some of the gravest threats and most important opportunities presented to us today.

Rising sea levels are already contributing to increased flood risks and salt water intrusion of our drinking water supplies along the coasts. But if you don’t live along the coasts, you’re not in the clear.

In some areas, we’re getting too much water. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of the heaviest rainfalls. Severe downpours are overwhelming communities’ capacity to deal with storm water runoff, undermining roads and bridges, and damaging homes and businesses.

In other areas, there’s too little water. Recent U.S. droughts have been the most expansive in decades. California is experiencing record heat and drought, but the problem isn’t isolated there. In 2011, Texas had its driest 12 months ever. At the peak of the 2012 drought, 81 percent of the contiguous United States was under abnormally dry conditions.

Meanwhile, heat waves can make droughts worse, driving up water demand when supplies are under siege. The combination of heat and drought harm livestock and crops, fuel damaging wildfires, and cripple the transportation of goods along our major rivers.

Heat waves can also make it harder to maintain safe electricity production. During the summer of 2012, Dominion Resources had to shut down one of the units at its Millstone nuclear plant because water from Long Island Sound was too warm.

And of course, extreme weather can knock out power supplies, which can also knock out water supplies. For example, American Water used more than 170 fixed or mobile generators to keep water flowing to its 6 million customers hit by Hurricane Sandy.

It’s this last point – the relationship between water and energy — that I’d like to focus on.

Water is used in all phases of energy production, and energy is required to extract and move water to where we need it. Energy is also needed to treat wastewater so it can be safely returned to the environment. In many regions, it’s not uncommon for the largest customer of the electric utility to be the water utility, and vice versa.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions recently hosted a series of webinars on the intersection between water and energy co-sponsored by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center. Here are a few interesting statistics from that series:

The water sector uses about 13 percent of the nation’s electricity. In some areas, like the Mountain West and Southwest, it’s even higher. Meanwhile, 41 percent of freshwater withdrawals in the U.S. are used for electricity generation.

To give you a sense of water demands for energy at the facility level, a coal-fired power plant with a cooling pond uses about 35,000 gallons per megawatt hour. And according to the Department of Energy’s report, The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities, it takes 2 to 9 million gallons of water to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation.

I know you understand this water-energy nexus. We hear from both the water and energy sectors that a major barrier to addressing their linked challenges lies with our infrastructure. Our 19th and 20th century water and energy infrastructure and operational plans will simply not get us where we want to go – to a sustainable 21st century.

What I want to talk to you about are some of the opportunities I see for overcoming these challenges. Modernizing and integrating some of our water and energy services can benefit customers and the climate. Some of the things we can do include:

·      Building on-site renewable power generation at water utilities,

·      Updating pumping equipment to be more efficient,

·      Performing energy audits to better understand where “energy hogs” might exist within the water system

·      Optimizing time-of-day or time-of-season water operations to better synchronize with electricity demand and supply,

·      Helping customers reduce both their energy and water footprints, and

·      Converting wastewater facilities to generate heat and power.

In some cases, we don’t need technical innovation so much as innovative partnerships. For example, can utilities work with communities to influence the pattern of land development, to better ensure the quality of source waters, perhaps even reduce the requirements for treatment? Or can we partner with builders to ensure that facilities are energy-efficient, control storm water, perhaps through gray or green infrastructure, and reuse or recycle water?

As president of C2ES, I’m engaged in bringing diverse stakeholders together, like the diverse group of experts on this afternoon’s panel, to develop common-sense, practical solutions. C2ES has interacted with water and electricity utilities and local and state governments, and we’ve found great examples of people working together for a sustainable future. From New Jersey to Texas, from California to North Carolina, we see people collaborating to explore new ways to generate energy, recycle and reuse water, and use data to better manage and allocate resources.

For example, CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System have cooled the city’s power plants using wastewater, ensuring the city has enough water for power generation even in times of drought. In California, the East Bay Municipal Utility District has teamed with the University of California Davis to study the energy intensity of water and to develop a framework for managing it.

Some companies are taking their own steps to cut water and energy use. American Water, which provides drinking water and wastewater treatment to about 14 million people in 30 states and parts of Canada, is cutting its energy use by replacing aging motors and pipes. The company is also installing solar panels, which will use less water and avoid 2,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually in the process.

These examples, while a great start, are just that, a start. We need to ensure that this progress is documented, replicated, and built upon. We need to make sure that the policies that facilitate this cooperation are pursued, and policies that act as barriers are removed. And we need to engage experts from business, government, nonprofits, across sectors and across silos to help America’s water infrastructure and water management practices jump from the 19th century to the 21st century.

One looming issue that we all face is living in a world of limited resources. One benefit of partnerships across the water and energy disciplines that I mentioned is that they often leverage resources and expertise, in other words, help us do more with less.

In the upcoming panel, we’ll hear a lot about the need to deal with the water infrastructure in this country. And I don’t for a second question this need. But I’m also a realist. We’re unlikely to receive billions of dollars to make the leap to a 21st century water/energy system that can satisfy our future environmental and economic needs.

That’s why these partnerships, these innovative ways of collaborating across the water-energy nexus, are so important. We need to make considerations of water and energy part of our standard operating procedure, rather than a one-off research project or a luxury item to be tackled when extra funds are available.

As a climate guy, it’s clear that these partnerships also offer a tremendous opportunity to tackle some of our biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and confront some of the impacts that will (and have) presented significant damage and disruption to our society and economy.

So I think that gives you a taste of how interconnected water, energy, and climate change are, and why we need a diverse cross-section of experience and expertise to not only address the challenges we face but also grab opportunities to innovate, and build a sustainable, productive future.