Energy and water collisions at the Alabama Water Rally

Guest Blog | April 4, 2013 | Energy Policy
Cindy Lowry with Alabama River Heroes

Recently I presented at the 15th annual Alabama Water Rally, which is the yearly meeting of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. The presentation focused on the report, Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants, a product of the Energy and Water in a Warming World (EW3) Initiative, which details the vast amounts of water required for thermo-electric power generation in this country. Use varies by fuel type and cooling technology, with nuclear plants proving to be one of the most consumptive types of power generation.

The rally had record-breaking attendance this year, with over 120 participants from 19 watersheds in and around Alabama. There were students from several colleges, representing their state coalition, Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment. It’s always refreshing to see young faces engaged in these pressing issues.

I co-presented with Cindy Lowry, the executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. She added the local context to the information I presented, bringing it home for our audience. It was good timing for this information, as the state begins to debate and develop water management policies. The room was packed and the presentation was followed by lively and engaging conversation.

Many attendees were interested in the thorough database that was created in conjunction with the EW3 report, which shows water withdrawals, consumption and thermal discharge figures for almost every power generating station in the country. It’s a very useful tool for those wanting to learn more and organize around water and energy issues.

TVA's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant - Photo by Patrick Miklik/Huntsville Times

Overall, it was wonderful to meet and discuss crucial water and energy issues in one of my neighboring states. I hope the enthusiasm I witnessed translates into strong engagement in the state’s water management planning process. Alabama is a beautiful and water-rich state. But it is not immune to the serious droughts that have plagued our region over the past several years nor from the predicted future impacts from climate change.

And it’s heavily water-intensive electricity sector, similar to the entire region, is vulnerable. Most notably, TVA’s Browns Ferry nuclear plant had to reduce power generation several times over recent summers due to high temperatures in the Tennessee River. This resulted in financial impacts to their ratepayers because of the costs of buying replacement power. It is imperative that the Alabama plans now to protect this most precious resource and to prevent future water-energy collisions.

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