Wind Power and Water

Saturday was World Water day, a day to bring greater awareness to water issues. Water of course is vital to life itself. Clean water is also vital to agriculture – both animal husbandry, and irrigation in some places. A polluted or depleted aquifer in a dry area is a sure way to end farming in that area, causing depopulation and poverty. Water is increasingly important, especially as climate change will influence rainfall in the long term. Energy production is often water intensive. In fact, energy production uses more water than agriculture in the US. Wind and solar power, by contrast, use no water.

Vast quantities of water are used in fracking for gas and oil. In some cases, the water table has been polluted and rendered non usable. The tar sands use a lot of water, much of which is deposited in tailing ponds – a polite word for cesspools. These pools have killed ducks that land in them, and of course can overflow, fail, or leak into the groundwater. The Calgary floods of last year show that tailings ponds are not invincible, as that kind of rainfall would cause much overflow.

Thermal generation – coal, gas, and nuclear – uses water for cooling. Cooling towers evaporate water for cooling, and use of lakes and rivers causes a warming of the lake or river, increasing evaporation rates. Many thermal plants have to shut down if river flows are too small, or water temperature too high in the summer. The Pickering nuclear plant near Toronto was ordered to change it’s water intake system to reduce the fish, egg, and larvae kills from millions to “just” hundreds of thousands. This has an impact on both sport and commercial fisheries.

Reservoir based hydroelectricity would seem to use water, and let it continue to be used downstream. But the impacts on water consumption still exist. Reservoirs increase the surface area of water, increasing evaporation rates. And of course can have a major impact on fisheries. It was estimated that up to 50% of Lake Ontario’s biomass was eels in the 1950’s, before the Saunders dam was put in place near Cornwall. There was an active commercial fishery. The eel has a fascinating life cycle, breeding and dying in the Sargasso Sea in the mid Atlantic, and migrating to fresh water to feed and grow.

Areas with periodic droughts, like California, Australia, and even the US and Canadian west (remember the dust bowl) need to preserve their rivers and aquifers, or face severe economic consequences. In Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan are especially vulnerable to drought. And these two province rely primarily on thermal electricity generation.

Wind and solar. A better way to preserve our important water resources.

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