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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Ford-Duncil

Water-Energy Nexus: Balancing Resource Efficiency for a Sustainable Future

The water-energy nexus and the crucial need to balance are vital resources for a sustainable future. Like many other regions worldwide, water and energy are closely interconnected in Fresno County, and finding innovative solutions to manage them effectively is essential. In this blog, we will explore this nexus, the role of technology, and the leadership required to shape policies for resource management. Plus, we sat down with the Interim Director of the California Water Institute, Laura Ramos, and their role in this space. First, let’s explore the water-energy nexus.

“Ultimately, we are trying to break long-standing silos and incorporate multi-beneficial initiatives that benefit everyone. I think energy and water have always been seen as separate entities, but as you pointed out, they are very co-dependent. Looking at them as a nexus, and how one can help the other and vise versa, is important for the future.”

Understanding the Water-Energy Nexus:

The water-energy nexus refers to the intricate relationship between water and energy resources. All of these, especially in California, have been top of mind in communities, science, politics, and more. In past blogs, we have discussed that water is essential for many things besides energy production, while energy is required to extract, transport, and treat water. This interconnectedness creates a complex challenge in ensuring both resources are used efficiently while minimizing environmental impacts. What are some we can improve the water-energy nexus? We’re glad you asked.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, California (Photo by Tyke Jones)
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, California (Photo by Tyke Jones)

Bolstering Innovative Technologies:

Fresno County has been at the forefront of adopting innovative technologies to balance water and energy resources. WET Center innovators have created many of these innovative technologies and have used them right here on our campus farm to help reach a balanced water-energy nexus scale!

Understanding and Implementing Smart Water Management Systems: These systems use sensors and data analytics to optimize water usage, reducing wastage and energy consumption in water treatment and distribution. Again, many of our innovators have systems that work to address water management problems farmers and communities may experience.

Supporting Renewable Energy: Investing in renewable energy sources like solar and wind reduces the carbon footprint of energy production, indirectly conserving water resources. We talked in previous blogs about how a few more of our ventures are addressing critical issues in renewable energy.

Encouraging Water-Efficient Agricultural Practices: Fresno County is an agricultural hub, and water-efficient irrigation techniques can significantly reduce water and energy consumption in farming. You can probably guess what we’ll say next-- we also have more Valley Ventures Alumni who offer solutions to the consumption and use of water and energy on and off the farm.

Incorporating Energy-Efficient Water Treatment and Management: Modernizing water treatment plants and infrastructure with energy-efficient equipment helps reduce energy consumption while ensuring a safe and clean water supply. We discuss how the City of Fresno addresses and prioritizes this issue later in this blog.

The Role of Leadership and Policy in the Water-Energy Nexus:

Leadership also plays a pivotal role in shaping policies for resource management in Fresno County. Elected officials, community leaders, and industry experts must collaborate to:

  1. Set Clear Objectives: Define goals for resource efficiency, including water and energy conservation targets.

  2. Incentivize Innovation: Encourage businesses and individuals to adopt energy and water-efficient practices through incentives and tax breaks.

  3. Education and Awareness: Promote awareness about the water-energy nexus and the importance of responsible resource management in communities.

  4. Regulation and Standards: Implement and enforce regulations that ensure sustainable practices across industries, from agriculture to manufacturing.

  5. Invest in Research: Allocate resources to research institutions to develop cutting-edge technologies and strategies for balancing the water-energy nexus.

So, what is currently being done in both commercial and agricultural sectors to help balance the water-energy nexus?

On June 10, 2022, in alignment with the California State Water Resources Control Board's (State Water Board) adoption of an emergency regulation to reduce water demand and improve water conservation, the City of Fresno moved to Stage 2 of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan to minimize water use demands 10 percent to 20 percent.

In June 2019, the State Water Board adopted Resolution Number 2019-0029, authorizing a contract to support the environmental and economic analysis of new water efficiency standards. After the research was completed, on August 18, 2023, The State Water Board also proposed Making Conservation A California Way of Life webpage and regulation.

So, this is all about water. What about energy and agriculture?

According to the State Legislative Platform for the County of Fresno, they support the following major legislative issues, which include efforts in agricultural support, mitigating agricultural risks, and promoting alternative energy. We have summarized some of the points on the website below.*

1. Water Conservation Efforts:

  • The City of Fresno's decision to move to Stage 2 of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan in response to the State Water Board's emergency regulation shows a commitment to reducing water demand and improving water conservation. This action aligns with managing water resources efficiently.

2. Water Efficiency Standards:

  • The State Water Board's adoption of Resolution Number 2019-0029 and the subsequent proposal of the "Making Conservation A California Way of Life" webpage and regulation indicate a strong focus on water efficiency standards. This effort aims to ensure that water is used more effectively across the state, thus reducing the energy required for water treatment and distribution.

3. Agricultural Support:

  • The County of Fresno's support for San Joaquin Valley's regional efforts to secure a reliable water supply for urban and agricultural use while protecting the environment demonstrates a holistic approach to addressing water and agriculture. Supporting the expansion of water storage facilities and value-added economic development opportunities highlights a commitment to responsible resource management.

4. Mitigating Agricultural Risks:

  • Fresno County's support for funding, policies, and regulations to mitigate agricultural risks such as pests, diseases, floods, and droughts underscores the importance of safeguarding agricultural production while considering the energy-intensive aspects of farming.

5. Promoting Alternative Energy:

  • The endorsement of legislation and regulations that encourage the development of alternative energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal indicates a recognition of the link between energy and agriculture. These renewable energy sources can reduce the carbon footprint of farming and water-related activities.

6. Infrastructure Investment:

  • Supporting legislation to fund and expedite the construction of surface water storage projects and upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure demonstrates a commitment to improving water management infrastructure. Such investments can lead to energy-efficient water treatment and distribution systems.

In summary, the combined efforts in Fresno County reflect a comprehensive approach to address the Water-Energy Nexus. These initiatives aim to conserve water, improve water efficiency, support agriculture, and promote renewable energy sources, all of which contribute to a more sustainable and balanced management of vital resources.

*To view all of the major legislative issues the County of Fresno supports, click here.

Industry Insight

We wanted to sit down with key individuals and organizations constantly working and innovating in this space to gain deeper insights into the water-energy nexus. First, we connected with our parent organization, California Water Institute.

The California Water Institute focuses on all aspects of sustainable water resource management solutions through outreach, entrepreneurship, education, testing, and interdisciplinary research. Enter Interim Director Laura Ramos, who we chatted with about their efforts here on campus and more.

Q: Can you describe some of the critical challenges and opportunities at the intersection of water and energy in California and how California Water Institute is actively working to address these issues?

A: “One of the biggest energy users in California is in the movement of water. So, if you conserve water, you also conserve energy. The more water you’re moving, the more energy you are using. As we build infrastructure, we try to build it in a way that is gravity-fed. If we’re moving water and using gravity to pull that water and move it, then we do not need as much energy in the long run. But, it’s when we can't use gravity to move that water that more energy is being used to move that water. One of the things that we educate a lot about is subsidence, which is the ground sinking because we are overpumping the groundwater. It (subsidence) is causing a lot of damage to infrastructure. So, canals created to be gravity-fed can no longer be gravity-fed because they’re sinking in specific areas. We spend a lot of time studying and educating about the damages that overpumping water is causing to infrastructure, which also causes us to use more energy. It’s a cycle!"

Q: Well, what about all that water that California got in 2023? Wouldn’t that help the water-energy nexus in some way?

A: “Naturally, you would think that since there was all this flooding this year, that means there was more water. However, since there was a “water overload” in our infrastructure, there were a lot of pumps that were used to move all of that water. Some were electrical, and some were gas or propane, but you may not have any of those options depending on where you are. So, the movement of water, and moving it quickly, causes a lot of energy use. That’s why we educate on improving or updating our infrastructure so we do not have to move water as much, which will thus save energy in the long run."

Q: With California's increasing focus on sustainable resource management, how does California Water Institute contribute to innovative solutions that promote water and energy efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and ensure long-term resilience in the state's water and energy systems? Is that through research/advocacy? Education? Tell us more.

A: “We do both! The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) limits the amount of water pumped based on being sustainable by 2040. So, with that statement in mind, we will first save energy because we won’t be pumping as much water and using that energy. Second, land may be taken out of production because farmers might not have the water they need to take care of their crops that they once did. We worked with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) on transitional options that can work for some of that land. That way, if the land isn’t used to grow a food commodity, it can be used for other things, all with an economic benefit in mind. One of those options could be solar panels and increasing the amount of solar that will be used in the valley. The cool part is that solar panels are already being used in the farming community, but they’re usually dedicated to one pump or at a smaller scale. If land is more readily available, this could also mean that there will be more options for energy generation through panels alone. But that transition isn’t necessarily without some concerns. For example, since solar panels tend to emit heat while converting energy from the sun into power, would the installation of solar panels affect the temperature of the area or California as a whole? We also considered other options outside of solar that could be of economic benefit, like habitat restoration, groundwater recharge, and others. Being able to look at multiple uses and multiple benefits is something that we research and educate about consistently."

Q: Could you provide examples of specific research led by California Water Institute that demonstrate your organization's commitment to advancing the understanding and management of water in California and the positive outcomes achieved through these efforts?

A: "One of the things that we try to focus on is multi-benefit, multi-use interdisciplinary solutions, and not the silos of solutions that have been used in the past. Groundwater research had traditionally been where you take land out of production, you put water in it, and you put access to water in it from the surface. There’s a newer technology that we’re testing on the (Fresno State) farm, and it will be featured at one of the AgTech Day sites. So, Cordie Qualle, who is on our team, is testing a sub-surface recharge solution. It’s completely underneath the root zone and has multiple benefits! One of them is better water quality and more control over the water quality. We’re hoping that, in return, this solution will cause an increase in water quality that is underneath because it’s diluting some of the contaminants. Our final report will be coming out in the next few weeks! The other solution we are working on is identifying sites in Fresno County that are ideal for recharge that will benefit disadvantaged communities. We know that recharge will happen, and we know that it will benefit farmers, the ecosystem, and our infrastructure. Still, we are considering locations to benefit those communities and extended communities whose only water source is from wells. Lastly, we have one more project that we are working on called the Unified Water Plan. This plan will discuss water infrastructure for the eight counties. It will review current plans surrounding water infrastructure and how we can better coordinate and fill some of the existing gaps and, in turn, will better serve communities and foster sustainable uses of water across our valley. It will include new infrastructure initiatives and fixing the current infrastructure in place!"

“Ultimately, we are trying to break long-standing silos and incorporate multi-beneficial initiatives that benefit everyone. I think energy and water have always been seen as separate entities, but as you pointed out, they are very co-dependent. Looking at them as a nexus, and how one can help the other and vise versa, is important for the future.”

Balancing the water-energy nexus is not just a local issue but a global imperative. Fresno County’s and Fresno State’s commitment to innovative technologies and strong resource management leadership is an inspiring example. By embracing these strategies and learning from local leaders, we can all play a part in securing a sustainable future for our communities and the planet!


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Nov 11, 2023

Good info! Thanks :)

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Nov 17, 2023
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