Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Help California’s Water Sector Fight Climate Change

SB 1425 Would Create Voluntary Registry to Track Energy Use and Heat-Trapping Pollution

Published Jun 27, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. (June 27, 2016)—The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources today moved California one step closer toward effectively managing electricity use by the state’s water sector. The committee passed SB 1425 (Pavley), which would create a voluntary registry to track the sector’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The bill is needed because water use consumes nearly 20 percent of California’s electricity, a number that is likely to grow as the extended drought further stresses water supplies and the electricity grid, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“At a time when we are at risk for both energy and water shortages as well as increased risks from climate change, we need to rethink the role that water plays as a major electricity consumer and producer,” said Adrienne Alvord, UCS western states director. “The state hasn’t been paying enough attention to how the electricity sources powering the water sector impact our ability to reduce heat-trapping pollution.”

California’s water sector uses electricity to pump, treat, transport, deliver and heat water. The state is already seeing huge increases in energy-intensive groundwater pumping to make up for low precipitation during the drought. In addition, expected increases in wastewater treatment and water recycling to stretch water supplies mean the energy intensity of water use will grow. Despite the huge amount of energy used to power the water sector, the state doesn’t have consistent data to determine the impact on the energy sector and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. SB 1425 would help solve this problem by giving decision makers the information needed to effectively manage two scarce resources, water and energy, which are both inextricably linked together and tied to climate change, according to UCS.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, and California’s ongoing drought is teaching us that water suppliers can be very creative when they need to be,” wrote Juliet Christian-Smith, UCS’s leading expert on issues related to water supply and climate change, in a recent blog post, “Climate Problem or Solution? California’s Water Sector Is at a Crossroads as Drought Drags On.” “Sometimes that is a good thing, particularly when we see water utilities meeting and exceeding Governor Brown’s call for 25 percent water conservation. In other cases, pursuing new, ‘drought-proof’ water supplies can have unintended consequences. Drought-proof supplies, while helping respond to climate change, often require more energy than conventional drinking water sources.”

Investing in clean, renewable energy in the water sector will benefit utilities, their customers and California's efforts to reduce global warming pollution, according to the 2015 report, “Clean Energy Opportunities in California’s Water Sector,” by Christian-Smith and UCS Senior Energy Analyst Laura Wisland. However, the report also noted that the lack of data about electricity consumption is a key barrier to unlocking the water sector’s potential in helping California achieve its climate goals.

“The water sector can be a positive or negative contributor to California’s clean energy transition,” said Alvord. “This bill will provide water utilities with essential data needed to identify conservation and clean energy opportunities as the state grapples with the new normal of extended droughts and a changing climate.”