Groundwater Pumping Consumes Loads of Power

By Published On: September 4, 2014

Moving, treating, cooling and heating water supplies from above and below the ground in California uses about 20 percent of the state’s electricity and 30 percent of the natural gas supplies. Moving it also consumes around 80 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year, according to the California Energy Commission. During times of drought, the amount of groundwater pumped by electric-, diesel- and natural gas-powered pumps rises to about 60 percent of the state’s water supply. Pumping groundwater is energy intensive. The amount used generally is tied to the depth of pumping and amount of water lifted to the surface. Overall, an estimated 10,000 GWh are used to electrically pump groundwater from public water supply projects to irrigation districts, to farms and other end uses, the Electric Power Research Institute concluded in a 2003 report. Policymakers are increasingly focused on the energy costs of water use, including that associated with groundwater pumping, in part because of the ongoing drought. In general terms, agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s water supplies. On the flip side of the water-energy coin, pumping water comes with a steep cost. It makes up 90 percent of farmers’ electric costs, according to a 2005 water-energy report by the California Energy Commission. The report estimated categories of intertwined water-energy usage on farming operations as follows: -4,499 GWh for “on farm” groundwater pumping. -2,873 GWh for “booster pumping,” which refers to groundwater and surface water pumped to supply pressurized irrigation systems. -1,231 GWh when accounting for natural gas and diesel pumps. Water is used to largely irrigate crops grown during the summer months, when state-wide energy use is at its greatest because of higher temperatures. Currently, groundwater may meet as much as 75 percent of agriculture’s water supply, according to University of California, Davis’ report released in July of this year. Aquifers are estimated to make up for 5.1 million of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water shortages, adding $454 million in pumping costs, UC Davis’ Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture notes.The more groundwater pumped the lower the water table. "Without replenishing groundwater in wet years, water tables fall and both reduce regional pumping capacity and increase pumping energy costs – ultimately threatening the viability of higher value permanent crops in some areas, “ warns the UC Davis report.

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