Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cheap Texas Water

Great interactive graphic on Texas water versus the rest of the United States from the Texas Tribune.  Good example for engineers - the power of interactive visualization.  Things like the water survey are engaging and completing - - they make your readers and clients better informed and smarter.

Soccer and the Water-Energy Nexus

Story from the Climate News Network.

The VA Needs More Doctors and Industrial Engineers

Could industrial engineers help with the VA mess?  As the demographics of our aging population collides with the supply constraints of producing additional doctors and other critical care medical professionals, the industrial engineering community needs to step in and help.  What professional better understands waiting queues, scheduling algorithms, quality control/assurance, coming up with KPI metrics and key performance measurement tools - - the very things that appear to be most challenging to the VA.  Industrial engineers don't make for very good heart surgeons, but heart surgeons don't make for very good industrial engineers.  You have to look at the entire medical system - - both doctors and engineers have a place at the table. 

Very good post on the whole VA mess.  From the article"

"First, it is important to understand just how serious the misdeeds of the Phoenix VA hospital (and apparently quite a few others) really are. The core of the scandal is what appears to have been a highly organized effort to cook the books in order to be able to report far shorter wait times for care than were actually achieved. Veterans awaiting care were kept off the formal waiting list (so that the wait-time clock did not start ticking) and handled through a series of ad hoc informal queues, which were themselves carelessly kept and badly mishandled. To work, this system appears to have required the active collusion of a large number of people at each VA facility in question, involving everything from telephone operators keeping some appointment requests out of the system to senior managers turning off audit controls on the hospital’s scheduling software to make it impossible to know who manipulated the system and how. The IG notes that some of these actions were almost certainly outright crimes. It’s not clear if what has happened at the many other VA facilities that have now been drawn into this scandal was as deep and broad, but it does look that way in at least some cases.

Second, the lengths to which VA employees were willing to go to report shorter wait times is a function of a longstanding emphasis (by Congress, successive administrations, and the veterans’ groups) on wait times as a primary performance measure, but this emphasis has not been tied (by any of them) to structural reforms that might actually enable the VA to function more efficiently. Centrally run, highly bureaucratic, public health-care systems that do not permit meaningful pricing and do not allow for competition among providers of care can really only respond to supply and demand pressures through waiting lines. It happens everywhere, but when it has happened at the VA the response has been to criticize waiting times rather than to reconsider how the system is organized."

The Ryno

Friday, May 30, 2014

Future Cities | edX

Future Cities | edX

Mapping Texas Dispoal Wells

"If you like Grisham but with engineers instead of lawyers, you'll love this book!"

I am surprised we don't see more Grisham but with engineers.  Check out The Jackhammer Elegies by Stefan Jaeger.

Construction Trends

Black & Veatch and It's About Being Informed

I like reading the Black & Veatch website.  I learn something and I feel it makes me smarter.  Those are two very good reactions from a reader of your website content regardless of the business line or industry.

Consider the following six ideas the next time you go to a website and read their content:
  1. We live in a world of ever-rising content.  A tsunami of information.  Google search "coffee cup" and you get 265 million links.  Type in "coffee cup" in a month and see the growth in links in just that 30-day period.  Type in "Black & Veatch" and you get 4,520,000 links.  Deciding what to read and where to read in the context of why is getting much more complex for any audience.
  2. The only number that matters is 1,440.  This is the number of minutes in a day.  Remember that time is a non-renewable resource.  Subtract out all the necessary daily activities and you probably have around 40 minutes of reading time.  The people you want to reach don't have huge amounts of time to spend reading your website.  The absolute key is thinking about your where, when, and how information users regarding what they want and how they value it.  Understand your website users' needs.  It no longer matters what you think you are teaching your clients and customers with your website content - it only matters what they learned.
  3. Your audience is in control.  Black & Veatch doesn't control their content or audience - without them, their content didn't happen.  People will take the time for your content that they, not you, find valuable.  Also, please don't think incremental change in the social media pyramid space.  Incremental change is really just going backwards in the world of "It's about being informed."  Your audience doesn't think in terms of informational incremental change.
  4. Peoples' experiences drive engagement.  Does the Black & Veatch website make you smarter (it does me)?  Does it draw you in and provide a story of value?  Is the Black & Veatch website good at explaining the world?  I think it is.
  5. Brands are essential.  Brands differentiate everything.  This includes the Black & Veatch brand.  What is your brand in the minds of those people you must reach?  Does you website content facilitate this branding effort?
  6. Your news and content must be credible, trustworthy, transparent, engaging, and convenient.  The professional services industry pretty much nails the first three.  If you go back to the number 1,440, engaging and convenient are the key drivers of any website and social media plan.  In general, engineers need to get better at thinking in terms of stories.  The ability to communicate with an audience in terms of a story is critical.  The world of communication is basic - it's typically people talking to people in terms of stories.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Graph of the Week

Goldman Sachs Looks at Soccer

Report on world cup predictions.

The USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program

The USDA is seeking grant related  soil and water partners for environmental protection and improving rural economic condtion projects - link.

Global Built Asset Performance Index 2014

Report from Arcadis that answers the question - Which countries gain the best economic returns from their buildings and infrastructure?

Robert E. Lee and Climate Change

Before Robert E. Lee was one of our nations greatest tactical generals, he was one of our greatest engineers.  From 1831 to 1846, Lee was an engineer working in places as apart as Virginia, Saint Louis, Missouri, and New York City.  As for almost every officer in the Engineer Corps, water was his chief opponent.  His work as an engineer taught him many things that would make him a great general.  Michael Korda, in the excellent Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, points out a key lesson:

"Anybody who has ever lived near the sea, a river, or a large body of water knows its latent power.  If there was one thing the experience taught Lee it was a determined, patient, almost serene state of mind in facing impossible odds - an attitude that never failed to amaze and impress his subordinates.  He had learned it in a hard school - the corps did not accept failure or excuses, however big the task.

With the potential of rising sea levels, stronger storms, and more extreme climate changes, water is again shaping up to be a strong opponent for engineers this century.  From too little water in Texas, to too much water in places like Miami and San Francisco, engineering associated with how we manage water resources will be critical.  The language will sound much like a war - what will be the best engineering solution to economically defend certain coastlines and communities?  In other communities, an orderly retreat will be the only alternative.  Many engineers will need the tactical skills of a Lee as they battle water on local and regional fronts.  Others will need the strategic vision of a Grant as we combine and coordinate resources on a national level.  Both types of engineers must be comfortable with the odds and uncertainties associated with our coming water wars.

From Clouds of Glory:

"If family history, a West Point education, an intense and personal admiration for George Washington, and a happy marriage formed a significant part of Robert E. Lee's character hydraulics supplied another.

The science of hydraulics was of course part of the curriculum at West Point, and it was the heart and soul of the Corps of Engineers in peacetime, indeed the engineers' very raison d'etre.  Their enemy was water: the storms and tides of the sea, the currents and flooding of the great rivers, the navigability of lakes, all these were their responsibility.  They deepened and maintained harbors, often where nature had never intended a harbor to be placed; they built canals and locks; they drained marshland; they removed sandbanks and dredged channels to make great rivers navigable for steamboats where not so very long ago the occasional Indian birch bark canoe had been the only vessel; they built levees to prevent rivers form flooding cities and farmland, drew up maps, and constructed massive fortresses to protect the American coastline in places so close to the sea that no sane man would have dared to build a house there.  What is more, they did all this with nothing much more than picks, shovels, sledgehammers, and crowbars as tools, a task bigger than the building of the Pyramids, which were at least on solid ground - the creation of a modern infrastructure for a virgin continent.  They had been at it since 1779 in war and in peace, and no project was too ambitious or difficult for them; the engineers proceeded at their own slow, steady pace, although underfunded, poorly paid, and grudgingly promoted, challenging nature and transforming the American landscape."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas

From the World Resources Institute - link.

Panoramic Video

Staggers Rail Act

Not yet out, bur American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century looks good.  Post on the book from Amazon: 

"Once an icon of American industry, railroads fell into a long decline beginning around the turn of the twentieth century. Overburdened with regulation and often displaced by barge traffic on government-maintained waterways, trucking on interstate highways, and jet aviation, railroads measured their misfortune in lost market share, abandoned track, bankruptcies, and unemployment. Today, however, as Robert Gallamore and John Meyer demonstrate, rail transportation is reviving, rescued by new sources of traffic and advanced technology, as well as less onerous bureaucracy.

In 1970, Congress responded to the industry's plight by consolidating most passenger rail service nationwide into Amtrak. But private-sector freight service was left to succeed or fail on its own. The renaissance in freight traffic began in 1980 with the Staggers Rail Act, which allowed railroad companies to contract with customers for services and granted freedom to set most rates based on market supply and demand. Railroads found new business hauling low-sulfur coal and grain long distances in redesigned freight cars, while double-stacked container cars moved a growing volume of both international and domestic goods. Today, trains have smaller crews, operate over better track, and are longer and heavier than ever before.

Near the end of the twentieth century, after several difficult but important mergers, privately owned railroads increased their investments in safe, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly freight transportation. American Railroads tells a riveting story about how this crucial U.S. industry managed to turn itself around."

Recommendations for Achieving Groundwater Sustainability

Report from the Association of California Water Agencies.

Tunnel Vision NYC

The world is a changing - - for every piece of physical infrastructure, someone is working on improving customer service with more/better information and thinking in terms of information on a small and mobile screen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Big Data and Sustainability

The five principles of better water resources management

This is my list of five -
  1. Find opportunities to substitute away from scarce resources.  This is always tough with water.  Instead of substitute, a better approach would be segmentation - matching the right water with the right purpose.  The household of the future might think in terms of three waters - bottled water for drinking, tap water for showering, and grey water for the lawn.
  2. Eliminating waste throughout the system, from production and treatment through end use.  Think about it - why is an 8% water loss rate considered good.  What other industry would you have a job if you lost 8% of your product?  If you were the CEO of a railroad and lost 8% of your box cars, how long would you have a job?
  3. Increasing "circularity" - upgrading, reusing, or recycling of water resources.  We need to be thinking more in terms of closed-looped water systems.  Tap-to-toilet-to-treatment-to-tap-to-toilet . . . the issue in the future will be how many times will we be able to complete this cycle.  Think coffee cup slogans - The Effluent Society.
  4. Optimizing efficiency, convenience, safety, and reliability.  Better asset management practice needs to come to the world of water resources management.  What assets to we own, where are they, what condition are they in, how long will they last - every pipe, every pump, every asset needs a plan.  We also need to better match fixed costs with fixed revenues and variable costs with variable revenues in a more transparent manner.
  5. The services and processes associated with water resources needs to move out of the physical world and into the virtual world.  Better water resource productivity starts with better real-time data.  With better data, managers and customers will have better information and the opportunity to make better decisions.  Better data helps with a broad range of water resource issues we need to be better at - from better accounting, bargaining, codifying, delegating, engineering, and feedback mechanisms.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Algorithms are simple mathematical formulas that nobody understands"

Watch this trend - - not hard to imagine this moving from medicine to other parts of society, including engineering (link to the story).

Why working for the 1% will always be a great business model

Interesting - trunk packing services for summer camp.

Find the paradox to solve a problem

From Marty Neurmeir in Dreaming: A Metaskill for the Future (Rotman Spring 2014):

"If you can describe the central contradiction within a given problem, you are well on the way to solving it.  When designer Mitchell Mauk noticed a problem with the storm drains in San Francisco, he took the initiative to propose a solution.  The city had been concerned about people dumping motor oil and chemicals this  into the sewers, where they would flow into the bay and pollute the fish habitats.  The usual warnings posted near the drains weren't working.  In this case, the central contradiction might have been stated like this: people won't stop dumping toxins through the sewer grates unless they can read the signs, and they won't read the signs if they're too busy dumping toxins through the sewer grates.  So Mauk asked the question another way: Can the sewer grates and the signs be one and the same?  He quickly imagined a grate in the shape of a fish.  His elegant Gratefish now sends an unambiguous message: whatever you put down this drain goes right into the fish."

Engineering for a future state

From the current issue of Rotman (Leadership Forum: The View from the C-Suite) - interview with David Labistour, former CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op:

"To me, Design Thinking is about defining a future state for our customer and the desired outcome of the future state - what our customers will need, and what the effect will be on them, and then applying the appropriate solutions to meeting the challenge.  I confess that I have a bit of difficulty separating design from systems thinking, which is also about defining what is changing in a market or business and getting to that future state.  To me, the two are sort of "joined at the hip", and starting to morph into one.  Both are very future-focused and customer-focused and attempt to understand the complexity of what we do, as opposed to taking a very linear approach to strategy and solutions."

U.S. Water Wars

Looking out for #1 in the context of water - New York Times article.

Better Information versus Higher Prices

This paper might suggest additional behavioral issues in water management.

Wars and Maps

Great post for Memorial Day on WW II and the new way we viewed map making - link.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

EPAs Final Cooling Intake Rule Receives Mixed Reaction | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

EPAs Final Cooling Intake Rule Receives Mixed Reaction | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Working on the Smarter Railroad

A post from Arup - the context is European, but the same can apply to U.S. railways:

"People are travelling more than ever before – and they increasingly choose rail to do it. To meet this demand, countries must either build new railways or increase capacity on their existing lines. I think using what you have more efficiently is often the better and cheaper option.

In many developed countries, finding the land to build new lines is a challenge – as is meeting the huge cost of such projects. Technology offers a more affordable way to deliver the required capacity by allowing you to run trains faster and closer together without altering the track.

Take a 10km stretch of track as an example. Now imagine there was a way to let four trains use it at any one time instead of, say, two trains. You’ve doubled the capacity. This is a possibility that is being opened up by communications-based signalling technology such as the European Train Control System, which Arup is working on in the UK for Network Rail in a joint venture with Ansaldo.
Such systems replace traditional trackside signals with a display inside every train cab. Increased capacity is far from their only benefit. This sort of signalling reduces maintenance costs because it needs less line-side equipment, improves performance and enhances safety by automatically stopping the train if it goes too far or too fast on a particular stretch of track.

However, current technology like ETCS would probably deliver an increase in capacity of just 20% or so. What’s more exciting is the potential offered by high-speed cellular communications such as 4G LTE. This will enable information about trains’ locations to be pinpointed more accurately and transmitted faster.

With high-speed communications, you can run very fast trains very close together very safely – increasing capacity. Take two trains running one behind the other at 200kph, for example. If the first train slowed down, the signalling system would reduce the speed of the following train by the same amount.

Communications-based signalling would free up capacity in other ways too. You would no longer need separate lines for fast and slow trains travelling along the same route, as is often the case today. Instead, travellers could be better served by faster services each stopping at a different selection of stations.

So just how much capacity could this add? Using this approach, I believe it will be possible to double capacity on a typical railway within the next 20 or 30 years. And the capital cost of fitting the required equipment in trains is much lower than the capital cost of building entirely new lines.
What’s more, the absence of line-side equipment makes this signalling equipment cheaper to maintain too. Instead of maintenance crews travelling out to look after remote equipment that has proven vulnerable to vandalism and theft, the equipment would come to them – on-board the trains.
All this is why, for me, advanced signalling technology is essential if the world is going to get the increased capacity it needs on its railways."

Less Than a Dozen

North Texas Stage 5 Water Use Restrictions - Flushing Every Other Day

There really is no Stage 5 water use restriction in  North Texas - yet.  Heavy rains are forecast for Monday and Tuesday that will help with our current drought.  Helping in the short-term is not solving in the long-term.  For a state that has the ninth-largest economy in the world we have a simple fact - in serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.  We are slowly matching toward a big mess.  A mess bounded by rapid growth and declining water supplies is slowly developing.

In Texas, we appear to be making two huge mistakes.  The first is not elevating the importance of water and water investment in the minds of voters.  During our current election cycle, who is championing the concept of an intrastate water pipeline to run parallel to the planned oil pipeline?  Who is talking about the potential of desalination combined with our fracking revolution that could turn Texas into the desalination capital of the world? 

The second is more disappointing than the first.  No other state bleeds capitalism and the value of the private sector over government than Texas.  Yet the state appears totally divorced from the power of markets and market incentives to modify water consumption behavior.  We have yet to touch the full potential of the water conservation toolbox - from real-time smart water metering to (much) higher pricing strategies for discretionary use.  The state needs more aggressive pricing to manage its water supply.  How can a state that is so Republican and conservative not want to be a leader in using the markets to more effectively manage its limited water resources?

Like the Dallas Morning News recently pointed out - Without water, we don't stand a chance.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Catholic Church Looks at Climate Change

From a recent conference at the Vatican - summary.

Who should be buying coastal properties?

Interesting perspective in this article.

Engineering As An Interaction

The  more engineering is perceived as an interaction versus a form of transaction or part of production or construction - the better off the profession will be.

Should Engineers Study Game of Thrones?

We really struggle with the politics of critical issues - from infrastructure funding to climate change to a lack of STEM knowledgeable elected officials.

A little Game of Thrones mixed in with concrete design and environmental planning might help - link to a story on CNN.  ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers)  wants to crank out report cards, but what ASCE needs is Tywin Lannister.

Admiral McRaven's 10 Life Lessons UT Commencement Address

Designing for a Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Denser, and Cheaper World

The focus of engineering is change.  How do we change the world - for the better.   Defining better will involve all of the five metrics - smaller, faster, lighter, denser, and cheaper.  Specifically engineers will focus on:
  1. Smaller - Designing things that require less space and material will be important in a world of resource constraints where small is better.  My iPhone is a perfect example.  As small as my wallet, yet with a quarter-million times the data-storage capacity of the Apollo spaceship, things like the iPhone demonstrate the power of blending sustainability, performance, and smallness.
  2. Faster - The speed of change is accelerating.  This includes all types of change - technological, economic, environmental, political, and social.  People want their water treatment plant design and constructed faster - they expect technology to produce dynamic improvements that accelerates and amplifies across a broad spectrum of society.
  3. Lighter - Nothing is designed to be heavier versus the same or similar product from 30-years ago.  Lighter will go beyond material or packaging reductions.  Lighter water and carbon footprints will increasingly be part of design requirements. 
  4. Denser - The 14 county of North Texas is projected to grow from six million to over 16 million by 2050.  Denser living is slowly coming to North Texas.  This will require new ways of thinking about infrastructure, services, and products.  Other issues, such as energy densities associated with batteries, will require design attention.
  5. Cheaper - If done correctly, smaller, faster, lighter, and denser can produce the 5th metric - cheaper.  Doing all of this at a lower cost is critical and sets the stage for a century dominated by vast improvements - from poverty reduction to environment improvements to economic growth.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Loving County plans desalination project for drinking water - Odessa American: Business

Loving County plans desalination project for drinking water - Odessa American: Business

Why technology will help Texas water woes

Link to an interesting story on the Brackish Revolution in Texas and the role that technology and engineering will have in solving water woes in the southwest United States.

The Effluent Society

Report from Charting New Waters - Ensuring Urban Water Security in Water-Scarce Regions of the United States (link).  The Effluent Society will focus on reclaiming and reusing wastewater multiple times.  Public perception will shift significantly in the context of wastewater reuse - - The Effluent Society will not have a choice.

The most important business article this decade

The Big Idea the remainder of this decade and beyond will be talent - - how do you define it, who has it, and how do you acquire it.  Constant change and shifting demographics demand this new focus on new ways of thinking about engineering potential. 

The current issue of Harvard Business Review has a superior article on the subject by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz - - 21st Century Talent Spotting: Why potential now trumps brains, experience, and "competencies".  Read this article.  Then read it again.  Then go to Monster or job postings on Black & Veatch or GE or Bechtel or Boeing or any of a thousand others.  Read those job postings and then consider this statement from the article:

"In the past few decades, organizations have emphasized "competencies" in hiring and developing talent.  Jobs have been decomposed into skills filled by candidates who have them.  But 21st-century business is too volatile and complex - and the market for top talent too tight - for that model to work anymore."

In your next interview, consider these questions to the candidate.  What do you do to broaden your thinking, experience, or personal development?  How would foster learning with your project team or in our organization?  What steps do you take to seek out the unknown?

Fernandez-Araoz points out a new path for dealing with a scarcity of talent and the need for better hiring practices.  Engineers will still need to be judged by intelligence, values, experience, and leadership potential.  But also consider these qualities:
  • Curiosity - a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change.
  • Insight - the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.
  • Engagement - a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.
  • Determination - the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity.

Making Less Do Less

Engineers are trained to look at the world in terms of making less do more.  Remember that many parts of society are very comfortable with making less do less.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Texas 3T (Toilet to Tap) Project and Market

This is a huge market to watch - it will be interesting to see if the P3 delivery system will aid in the development of the 3T market.

The 69 Bad Words of Engineering

When you have a problem (= issue, condition, matter) on a project, the "GM 69" is a good reference of bad words not to put into a memo. 

"always, annihilate, apocalyptic, asphyxiating, bad, Band-Aid, big time, brakes like an “X” car, cataclysmic, catastrophic, Challenger, chaotic, Cobain, condemns, Corvair-like, crippling, critical, dangerous, deathtrap, debilitating, decapitating, defect, defective, detonate, disemboweling, enfeebling, evil, eviscerated, explode, failed, flawed, genocide, ghastly, grenadelike, grisly, gruesome, Hindenburg, Hobbling, Horrific, impaling, inferno, Kevorkianesque, lacerating, life-threatening, maiming, malicious, mangling, maniacal, mutilating, never, potentially-disfiguring, powder keg, problem, rolling sarcophagus (tomb or coffin), safety, safety related, serious, spontaneous combustion, startling, suffocating, suicidal, terrifying, Titanic, unstable, widow-maker, words or phrases with a biblical connotation, you’re toast"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Interesting organization - - Bridge8 could be a resource for engineers in the world of screens.  From project animation to technology trends - - engineers live in a world where your ideas and creativity needs to be communicated in a two to three minute video.  Think video!!!

Great Reuse Video

Urbanization is the biggest macro trend out there

Several key issues engineering needs to address in this decade.  The first is the global trend of urbanization and the need for greater cross-disciplinary thinking and action.  The transportation people need to be talking to the water people which need to be talking to the design people which need to be talking to the policy people which need to be talking to the governance people which need to be talking to the planning people.  Rarely is this done at any level.  Engineering schools typically don't get training leaders in a cross-disciplinary fashion nor are they thinking about how to train future engineers and leaders in the common language of urbanization.

The second point is the thinnest of the talent pool, especially in the private sector, to deal with managing the huge scale of complex urbanization.  Scale and speed with be key variables associated with urbanization.  You will have this complex mix of interdisciplinary teams, many utilizing new public-private project delivery mechanisms, needing engineers skilled in big project management.  We don't appear to be meeting the grade in this area.

As urbanization becomes the biggest macro trend in our time - government, education, and business needs a closer working relationship.

The Water-Copper Nexus

From Copper Miners Thirst for Water by John W. Miller in today's Wall Street Journal:

"As mining companies probe remote areas for increasingly scare minerals, they are investing billions of dollars for water.  Moody's Investors Service estimates that mining companies spent $12 billion in 2013, three times as much as 2009, on water management, including treatment facilities and pipelines."

What a Shock!!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Engineer that is full, ready, and correct

Industry has been clear about what it wants in an engineer - - There is a desire for students who have not only great technical skills but also some breadth in their studies.

From Francis Bacon: "Reading makes a full man, conversation a ready man and writing a correct man.  Now young gentlemen I have all full, ready, and correct."

Underwear for (Male) Engineers

Already thinking about the gadgets pocket --  link to the story.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The How Long Will It Last Question and Asset Management

A key question embedded in any asset management program is the how long will it last question.  Being able to effectively address the remaining life question allows asset managers to preserve optionality - at those critical "fork-in-the-road" moments, you don't want to replace or renew assets that don't need to be, nor do you want to defer preventative action on assets needing action.  Understanding the remaining life of an asset greatly enhances the notion of making the correct decision based on the right information, collected for the right reasons, and at the right time.

Check out PVC Longevity Report: Affordability & the 100+ Year Benchmark Standard by Dr. Steven Folkman, Ph.D., P.E. (link).

Dam Choices

Paper from the National Academy of Sciences - link.


The world of smart infrastructure is coming to the groundwater industry. Wellntel has developed a sensor system for wells that not only measures water levels accurately and more frequently, but also looks at weather and other data to predict where the levels are probably headed (link).

"Drinking the Poop Juice"

Humor that illustrates the huge social and cultural divide regarding toilet to tap drinking. Bottom line - the three Ts (time, technology, and temperature associated with global warming/water resource stress) will greatly cut into the social and cultural stigmas.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Town

From the current issue of Time.  I would have thought my six graduate degrees would have impacted some way to calculate our average!

"Southlake’s 76092 zip code is distinctive for several reasons. Besides being the only top finisher out West, the zip code is tied for the most modern of the 10, with a median home construction year of 1995 (compare that to the national median, 1974). It’s also the least educated of the top 10, with just 23.8% of residents holding advanced degrees (though that’s still over twice the national percentage of 10.6%)."

Infrastructure Strategy - Public Sector Reforms and Private Sector Opportunities

Northwestern is offering a new class that trains MBAs on managing infrastructure projects.  From the Kellogg magazine:

"While it may not be as glamorous as managing hedge funds or deciphering big data, developing and maintaining infrastructure is crucial to nearly every economy on the planet. Responding to the growing global need for infrastructure and the need to understand its unique economic characteristics, Kellogg has introduced a 10-week course, Infrastructure Strategy — Public Sector Reforms and Private Sector Opportunities.

Taught by David Besanko ’82, the seminar looks at the relationship between private and public sectors in how infrastructure projects are financed, designed, built and regulated across the globe.

The goal of the course, which debuted in spring quarter 2014, is to provide students with the knowledge to manage infrastructure projects from either the public or private arena, Besanko says.
There’s a real need to find other sources of capital; that’s why the private sector is being brought in,” he says. “They represent a new source of capital, and there are a lot of questions as to how these partnerships should be structured.”"

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Is Wastewater the New Oil?

Water was going to be new oil.  This has yet to develop - yet is the key part.  The cover of Civil Engineering magazine this month (The Global Water Crisis) asks the key question - What Will It Take?  As the article pointed out, water has huge economic, social, geographical, cultural, and political implications.  The language of water is starting to sound like the language of oil.   In Texas and the West, wastewater might get to the oil designation sooner than tab water.

It would be interesting to see a study that looked at the national trend of waterwater reuse over the last ten years.  Total number of gallons in 2004 versus 2014 that have been developed for reuse.  This will be an important metric to watch.

Videos of wastewater are the new thing!!!

A Sentence to Ponder

From the Financial Times:

"In just two years, from 2011 to 2012, China produced more cement than the US did in the entire 20th century, according to historical data from the US Geological Survey and China’s National Bureau of Statistics."

Thoughts on Collection System Asset Management

The term “asset management” is much in vogue as a management philosophy in the context of public infrastructure.  This increased focused on the development of a structured and systematic asset management program stems from a desire to balance the tensions of fiscal constraints with the demands of increasing collection system complexities in a world where “doing more with less” becomes an unpleasant reality. Most utility operations are currently implementing some portion of an asset management program; they just don’t call it asset management.
Asset management is a management philosophy about decision making, planning, and control over the acquisition, use, safeguarding and disposal of collection system assets.  The goal is to maximize their service delivery potential and benefits, and to minimize their related risks and costs over their entire life.  Management is continuously focused on improving the method of aligning service priorities with collection system investment and maintenance decision making while implementing a strategic funding strategy.  In many respects, a collection system asset management program is the linchpin that combines operations and maintenance with capital planning and programming.  The benefits of a formalized asset management program are real and tangible; better communication, better coordination, better cooperation, better decision making, better performance management, and better use of public funds. 

The increased focus on asset management is supported by the changing landscape of most collection system utility operations.  These changes include aging infrastructure that needs more intensive repair and replacement; continuing regulatory challenges, including the need to often balance priorities among multiple compliance endpoints; workforce challenges, including aging workforce and difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified collection systems staff; uncertainty about future federal and state funding; and completing local priorities that can place collection system priorities near the bottom and the dwindling resource base in many communities.
Addressing the 7 ½ Questions of Asset Management

Any asset management program needs to have the capabilities to address what we call the 7 ½ Questions of Asset Management.  The questions include:

1.    What do we own and where is it?

2.    What condition is it in?

3.    What is its remaining service life?

4.    What are these assets worth?

5.    What do we spend and what should we spend/invest?

6.    What is the gap?

7.    How do we get sustainable infrastructure?

7 ½.  How resilient is our infrastructure?
The benefits of knowing the answer to these questions assists collection system operations and management with the avoidance of premature asset failure; risk management associated with asset failures, and mitigation of the consequence of the failure; and accurate prediction of future expenditure requirements through understanding remaining service collection system asset life and capital investment needs.  Any asset management system needs to effectively address a variety of decision making inputs, outputs, governance, business systems, people, processes, data, tools, and partners in the context of the collection system.

The first three questions are driven by a “Bottom-Up” approach to asset management.  Field operations are the primary source and facilitators of location, condition, and expected life questions.  The remaining questions are “Top-Down” driven by engineering, financial, and managerial decision making.  The seventh question is associated with fully developed and developing national sustainability concerns.  The last question is a partial question reflecting our developing concerns regarding how fast infrastructure, especially collections systems and wastewater treatment plants, will be able to recover operationally from disasters and extreme weather events.

The Bottom-Up Approach

The Bottom-Up approach provides a focus on collecting the right information, for the right reasons, at the right time, with the goal of helping utility managers make the right or correct decision during the life-cycle of an asset.  A key step in this process is the development of a reliable and accessible collection system inventory registry.  The ability to maintain, repair, renew, and replace collection system assets starts with accurate information.  Consideration should be given to asset data that includes unique asset identification, material, year installed, anticipated useful life, replacement cost, and relative condition.  Much of this data may currently exist in legacy systems maintained by the utility.  The goal should be to validate the existing information, supplement it with continuous day-to-day data collection, and finally to align the combined information with the utility’s operations and planning initiatives.

What condition is it in?  This question should be addressed in terms of the three types of condition assessments: physical, demand, and functional.  The physical condition reflects the physical state of the collection system, which may or may not affect its performance.  Demand condition assessments examine collection system asset capacity over the long-term.  Assets must be utilized effectively in order to provide the maximum return on funds invested and to deliver the required levels of service.  Functional assessments deal with the suitability or fitness of the asset.  Methodologies to determine which collection system components require inspection and to establish frequency of inspection should be given priority.

What is the remaining collection system asset life?  Another important piece of information for utility managers to have when making infrastructure maintenance and investment decisions is the remaining asset within the collection system asset portfolio.  This metric can help illustrate where and when collection system upgrades and replacements may be required.  It is important for utility managers to understand that a long remaining useful life doesn’t necessarily mean that the collection system asset is in good physical, demand, or functional condition.  On the other hand a segment of sewer pipe with a negative useful life doesn’t always mean the asset requires replacement.  The sewer pipe still may be meeting its required level of service or can continue with maintenance and/or an enhanced inspection schedule.  One of the key advantages of an asset management approach is an understanding of where an asset is in its life-cycle, allowing managers the preservation of optionality at critical “fork in the road” junctions during the asset life-cycle.

The remaining life question is a key question in which the “Bottom-Up” approach meets the “Top-Down” approach.  The utility industry continues to research, develop, and refine a variety of models and algorithms in the form of asset deterioration models and survival curves.  This “Top-Down” approach will be an important contributing factor in successfully addressing the remaining life question.  It is also important not to discount the experience, knowledge, and insightfulness of field operations staff regarding a “Bottom-Up” approach to addressing the remaining life question.  Their day-to-day experiences in condition assessments and deep understanding of failure modes should be incorporated into addressing the remaining life question.

The Multi-Model Asset Management Business Model

One of the core advantages of an asset management approach to collection system management is flexibility.  Figure 1 – Asset Management Business Model outlines the tools and applications that are available.  Depending on the goals and objectives of the individual asset management program, the utility might have some of the support applications or all of them.

As reflected in Figure1, the goal should be to develop an integrated management systems approach to collection systems asset management.  Building on existing systems can reduce the effort and expense involved in creating and maintaining an asset management system.  As previously mentioned, many organizations are currently involved in the day-to-day activities that constitute asset management.  Asset management is data intensive and new tools and processes are often necessary to collect, assemble, manage, analyze, and assess data.  The ability to combine the existing with various new tools provides quick wins in areas such as risk reduction, opportunity identification, and process improvement, and can be identified early in the implementation process.  This allows utility managers to demonstrate returns and gain stronger stakeholder support.

GIS will continue as the long-term platform and tool for asset management information systems.  Linking (GIS) mapping images to the physical asset register; linking the asset register to capital works system; and providing support for maintenance management functions are all enhanced with GIS capabilities.  It is important to remember that the functionality and degree of sophistication of the information system needs to be appropriate to the nature, size, and complexity of collection system assets, and the capacity of the municipality or utility department.  For small portfolios, a small spreadsheet could be adequate, whereas sophisticated (and relatively expensive) information systems are adopted by cities and communities with extensive collection system portfolios and the resources to manage the system.

Moving From Reactive to Proactive

A goal in addressing key management priorities within an asset management program is an understanding of the impact of failure and risk reduction.  Figure 2 – Typical Deterioration Curve clarifies the operational advantages of an evidence-based approach to asset management focused on proactive, preventative, and predictive decision making.

Identifying critical collection systems assets is often the first step in managing asset risk.  It is necessary to have some form of measurement of the consequence of failure, and therefore an indicator of the “criticality” of the assets.  Potential consequences of failure include; public and municipal employees’ health and safety; financial losses; service delivery performance; and environmental impacts.  A better understanding of risks and impacts enable the following: focusing of the level of detail and accuracy of data collection exercise; crafting of focused maintenance responses; prioritization of asset renewal; prioritization of collection system asset-level risk mitigations; and measurement of the overall risk exposure.  The asset management program should allow managers the information necessary for weighing the relative merits of various choices with potentially risky outcomes.

Collection system asset management provides managers with tools and platforms to monitor the condition and performance of assets, especially those assets designated as critical.  Addressing the “what condition is it in?” and remaining life questions throughout the life-cycle of a collection system asset allows managers to engage in actions to monitor the condition of an asset and predict the need for preventive action.


A collection system asset management can help in gaining an understanding of assets, their performance, the risks associated with managing assets, investment needs, and asset value as an input to decision making and organization strategic planning.  Asset management is much more a day-to-day management philosophy than the purchase of a new software platform or report.  Tools are important and they can stimulate and improve organizational knowledge and decision making.  But collection system asset management is much more about bringing new perspectives to the utility organization and new ideas on value creation from the use of assets.  The combination of legacy systems and information with new asset management practices can fully support a long-term and sustainable approach to collection system decision making.

Cost of Solving Climate Change | MIT Technology Review

Cost of Solving Climate Change | MIT Technology Review

DOE and Dams

The Department of Energy is looking at potential hydroelectric sites (link).  See my previous post and research on the changing face of the water-energy nexus.

The Water-Energy Nexus in a Changing World


Water and energy are the two most fundamental ingredients of modern civilization.  Without water, people die.  Without energy, we cannot grow food, run computers, or power homes, schools, or offices.  The interdependency between the world’s two most critical resources is receiving more and more attention from academia, economist, and engineers as well as the general public.  A comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the water-energy nexus is essential to achieve sustainable resource management.

The paradox of the water-energy nexus has gained additional traction with greater concerns regarding various climate change scenarios.  Drought in the Southwest United States could produce power systems compromising this region in the context of supply-demand balance, thermal and hydro-capacity loses, reserve margin reductions, and overall system reliability and vulnerability.

I live in Texas where Texas is on the front page of concerns about the water-energy nexus.  As Texas has seen the evolution of one energy industry (i.e., hydrofracking for expanded natural gas development – keep in mind that the “hydro-“ portion of fracking is essential) it has seen the decline of another portion of the energy matrix.  This was recently reported in the New York Times (Malewitz, 2014):

“Faced with dwindling water supplies, the Lower Colorado River Authority, which supplies water and energy to much of Central Texas, is limiting downstream water releases for activities like rice farming.  Aside from stirring controversy among water users, the changes have shrunk the amount of electricity the agency generates from its six Colorado River dams. 

“Your hydropower becomes an innocent bystander of the conditions around it,” said Robert Cullick, a former River Authority spokesman who is now a consultant.

Hydroelectricity makes up a sliver of the L.C.R.A.’s energy portfolio, a mix of coal, natural gas and wind energy, and its further decline would probably not affect the region’s energy reliability.  But its possible extinction would close the book on a fuel source that played a major role in the history of Central Texas and the creation of the River Authority, whose dams make up about 40 percent of the state’s hydropower capacity.”

Hydropower is not the only energy source at risk in Texas in an era of extreme weather events and concerns relating the dependencies embedded in the water-energy nexus.  The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts issued the following warning regarding the Texas drought of 2011 (a year in which Amarillo, Texas received the same annual rainfall as Damascus, Syria – roughly 5.5 inches) (Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2012):

“Extended drought may affect the price and availability of electrical power in Texas, due both to the demand for summer air conditioning and the fact that most power plants use large amounts of water for cooling.

On December 1, 2011, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warned that another hot, dry summer could push the state’s power reserves below the minimum target next year.

More than 11,000 megawatts of Texas power generation – about 16 percent of ERCOT’s total power resources – rely on cooling water from sources at historically low levels.  If Texas does not receive “significant” rainfall by May, more than 3,000 megawatts of this capacity could be unavailable due to a lack of water for cooling.”

Consider the following as water and energy interdependencies increasingly become problematic across the United States (Webber, 2008):

“The paradox is raising its ugly head in many of our own backyards.  In January, Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C. dropped to 91.7 feet, less than a foot above the minimum allowed level for Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station.  Outside Las Vegas, Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River is now routinely 100 feet lower than historic levels.  If it dropped another 50 feet, the city would have to ration water use, and the huge hydroelectric turbines inside Hoover Dam on the lake would provide little or no power, potentially putting the booming desert metropolis in the dark.

Research scientist Gregory J. McCabe of the U.S. Geological Survey reiterated the message to Congress in June 2013.  He noted that an increase in average temperature of even 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit across the Southwest would compromise the Colorado River’s ability to meet the water demands of Nevada and six other states, as well as that of the Hoover Dam.  Earlier this year scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., declared that Lake Mead could become dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and future use is not curtailed.”

The national press and television outlets have widely reported on the continuing drought in the Southwest and West.  This particular drought has had negative impacts on reservoir storage.  Reservoir storage can be critical in the context of some forms of hydro and thermal power systems.  Consider the following (Fulp, 2005):

“The effect of the drought is immediately evident in reservoir storage.  In 1999, reservoirs on the Colorado River collectively were more than 90 percent full.  Today [2005] the system-wide storage is about 50 percent, a decrease in volume of some 25 million acre-feet of water.  Although the situation is very serious, the reservoir system is clearly doing its job, so about 30 million acre-feet of water remain in storage, or nearly two full years of average inflow into the system.”

Problems in the water-energy nexus are enormously complex.  The continuing drought in California highlights the challenges and interconnections between water and energy.  The Wall Street Journal highlighted this in a recent article (Heard on the Street Column, 2014):

“More than half of California is classified as being in a state of extreme drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Recent storms have brought some snow to parched slopes – including Tahoe’s – but they come very late: California’s snowpack is just 10% of normal levels, according to Citigroup.  The problem extends up the coast, with the Northwest River Forecast Center earlier this month reporting lower-than-normal precipitation in the region this season.

This matters because almost half of U.S. hydroelectric lies in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.  California, the country’s second-largest electricity market after Texas, got 17% of its power this way in the decade ending 2012.

So if rivers are low, the state has a problem – even more so when other sources of energy are stress as well.”

Extreme winter weather and constraints in the water-energy nexus forced prices for natural gas entering California up to $15 a million BTUs in late January from $4.19 at the end of 2013.  From the Wall Street Journal article:

“Adding to this is the fierce cold and snow battering New York a host of other places across the U.S.  Natural-gas-fired power plants make up more than 60% of California’s capacity, so these take the strain when the rivers run dry.  The problem is when the rest of the country needs gas for heat, supplies can be constrained.”

Thermal-based power facilities such as nuclear and coal-fired plants, are critically dependent on water for cooling purposes.  This enables them to maintain high production efficiencies, but also means that they use tremendous volumes of water every day.  Thermal power plants – those that consume coal, oil, natural gas or uranium – generate more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity, and they are water hogs (Webber, 2008).  The sheer amount required to cool the plants impacts the available supply to everyone else.  Although a considerable portion of the water is eventually returned to the source (some evaporates), when it is emitted it is at a different temperature and has a different biological content that the source, threatening the environment.  All of this takes place in a context in the U.S. where 520 billion kilo-watt (KWh) is required to move, treat, and heat its water, which accounts for up to 60% of the energy bill in some cities – equating to 13% of the entire electricity use in the United States (the carbon dioxide emission for the water portion of the water-energy nexus is equal to the annual emissions of 53 million cars) (Smedley, 2013).

Purpose of Paper

The goals of this paper focus on two areas.  The first is a general understanding of the operating environment that power generation and transmission systems face in drought and temperature stress environments.  The general impacts of drought and higher temperatures on power systems is as follows (Argonne National Laboratory, 2012):

Thermo-Electric Plants

·       Use surface water for cooling, fuel processing, and emissions control.

·       Low water level limits the amount of water that can be withdrawn (minimum water elevation limits).

·       Intake structures could be exposed (above water level).

·       High water temperatures at intake may lead to violation of water discharge regulations.

·       High temperatures lowers plant heat rate (efficiency).

Hydro-Electric Plants

·       Lower inflows means low power output.

·       Lower reservoir levels mean less water available for power generation and degraded water-to-energy conversion factors.

Gas-Fired Plants

·       High ambient temperatures limit cooling ability of air-cooled systems.

·       High temperatures decrease efficiency and capacity.

Photovoltaic Cells

·       High temperatures reduce efficiency and outputs of photovoltaic units.

Transmission Lines

·       High temperatures lower the thermal limits of transmission lines and circuit breakers.

·       High temperatures increase transmission loss and operation cost.

·       High ambient temperatures lower throughputs of transformers.

An important point in the water-energy nexus goes beyond just volumetric concerns.  Rising water temperatures play an important part in the water-energy nexus.  Accordingly, the second goal of the paper is the presentation of a model developed by researchers at the Norwegian School of Economics for the German electric markets in the context of electricity prices, river temperatures, and cooling water scarcity (McDermott & Nilsen, 2012).

Several examples outlined in the paper will be from the Southwest United States.  This is an area of the U.S. which is subject to drought and climate change concerns coupled with population increases.  As background, the installed capacity mix by fuel type in this area of the U.S., including ERCOT, is as follows (Argonne National Laboratory, 2012):

Fuel Type
Nameplate Capacity (MW)
Percent Share (%)
Natural Gas


Given the capacity of the Southwest, it is important to examine the share of high-risk drought capacity also in the Southwest.  Some 61% of the capacity has been rated at high-risk in the context of droughts (Argonne National Laboratory, 2012):

Drought Risk Type
Capacity (MW)
Percent Share (%)
High-Risk Thermal
High-Risk Hydro
Low-Risk Thermal and Others



Power Generation and Our Risky Climate

Over the past 15 years, increasing concerns about the risks to the electric grid from severe drought and hotter temperatures have grown for managers, engineers, and owners of electricity generating plants.  Recent drought events in the Pacific Northwest and California in 2001, in the Southwestern United States in 2007 and 2008 and in Texas in 2011, along with the uncertain impacts of climate change, have heightened these concerns.

Harto and Yan have written extensively about drought impacts on electricity production in the Western and Texas interconnections of the United States.  Several of their more important and interesting conclusions are outlined below (Harto & Yan, 2011):

·       The greatest precipitation shortage occurs during the winter months (which is exactly California is experiencing winter 2013-14).

·       The climate change observed in the 20th century (an increase of 1-3 degrees in spring temperature, a decline in spring show pack, and snow water equivalent, and a shift to early peak runoff) has been projected to continue throughout the 21st century in much of the western United States.

·       For a water resource region that has significant storage capacity, a one-year drought is expected to have a limited impact.  For an individual river system that has limited storage capacity, it is likely that droughts with durations of 1-5 years would have significant impacts on flow reduction.

·       Drought events in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin regions show a longer duration and lower frequency, whereas droughts in the Texas Gulf have shorter duration and higher frequency.

·       During the 2011 drought, California and the Pacific Northwest saw significantly reduced hydroelectric power generation, resulting in tight electricity supplies and high prices.

·       The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was forced to temporarily shut down its Browns Ferry Facility, and a few others were forced to reduce generation during a particularly acute period of drought in August 2007.  During this period, TVA was forced to purchase electricity from the grid to meet demand.  This outrage appears to have been more a result of an increase in the temperature of the cooling water source than due to limitations in the availability of water.

·       In general, the literature indicates that hydro generation is far more significantly affected by drought than thermoelectric generation.

·       While hydro generation has been shown to vary by large margins depending upon hydrological conditions, there have been limited reports of the thermoelectric functions being forced to shut down involuntarily.

·       Regional areas that are more prone to drought are more resilient than areas with less experience and are likely to have put more effort into planning and developing mitigation strategies.

·       Of the 423 power plants reviewed, 43% were identified as having cooling-water intake heights of less that 10-feet below the typical water level of their water source.

·       Of 580 power plants reviewed, 60% (representing approximately 90% of the total generating capacity) were deemed to be vulnerable on the basis of either supply or demand – related criteria.

Concerns regarding water-energy issues in the Southwest U.S. are highlighted throughout this paper.  Population and the water-energy nexus are tightly linked.  Consider the following in the context of the Southwest (Fisher & Ackerman, 2011):

“Since 1950, there has been a strong increase in the proportional growth of suburban populations.  In 2000, suburbanites accounted for 50% of the population.  Southwestern suburban developments, in which 70% or more of the water is often used for landscaping, amplify the water demands exerted by the increasing population.  Sabo et al. estimate that per-capita virtual water footprints are seven times higher for cities in the arid West than in the East.  They suggest that with a doubling of population, the West would require the equivalent of more than 86% of its total stream-flow to meet human use at current per-capita levels.”

Climate change ramifications in the Southwest have broad concerns for the water-energy nexus.  The 21st century will be marked by increasing risk as outlined below (MacDonald, 2010):

“. . . with greenhouse gas concentrations at their current levels, we likely will not escape significant warning and resulting increased aridity over the 21st century.  Coupled with the demographic projections, the climatic estimates for the next decade compel us to develop water resources strategies that adapt to these changing conditions and promote sustainability in the face of increasing general aridity as well as more serve episodic droughts.  Finally, the proximal economic costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions are often cited as a rationale for inaction on emissions reduction.  Because climate warming will exacerbate water sustainability problems, the Southwest is likely to experience some of the highest economic expenses and environmental losses related to climate change.  As the papers in this issue illustrate, the ultimate costs of inaction in curbing greenhouse gas emissions will be particularly high for the Southwest.”

I live in Southlake, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth) and have experienced the continuing drought in Texas.  The following comments are on the minds of many electricity providers in Texas (Cayan, 2010):

“One way that climatologists measure drought is by comparing annual rainfall to a long-term norm.  A serve drought in Texas early in the twentieth century was caused by a deficit of 10-12 inches of rain compared to the long-term norm, and one in the 1950s was brought on by a 6- to 8-inch deficit.  In 2011, the deficit was 13 inches, making the resulting drought the most severe recorded since record keeping had begun in 1896.  The 2011 drought also covered a huge area compared to previous droughts in Texas.  By August of 2012, a 62 percent of the contiguous US was declared to be under “moderate to exceptional drought.””

Many organizations are starting to make plans for a world of climate change risk.  The seven Colorado River basin states recently published Study of Long-Term Augmentation Options for the Water Supply of the Colorado River System (Colorado River Water Consultants, 2013).  Study outlined various augmentation options within the basin.  One has a direct impact on the water-energy nexus:

·       Add to Rainfall – weather modification, such as cloud seeding.

·       Reduce Evapotranspiration – vegetation management and reservoir evapotranspiration control.

·       New Water/Reuse from the System – Use desalted brackish water, reuse wastewater, use desalted or inland water.

·       Add to Groundwater – Conjunctive use.

·       Reduce Outflow from System – Reduction of power plant water consumptive use and stormwater storage.

·       Add to Inflow – Water from coalbed methane production and importation alternative.

Provided below is summary of the various alternatives evaluated in the study with the cost in dollars per acre-feet (Colorado River Water Consultants, 2013):

Quantity Evaluated (Acre-feet per year)
Cost ($/Acre-feet)
Brackish Water Desalination
4,000 – 5,000
$700 - $2,000
Coalbed Methane Produced Water
3,000 – 20,000
$900 - $4,600
Conjunctive Use
8,000 – 40,000
$400 - $700
Ocean Water Desalination
20,000 – 100,000
$1,100 - $1,800
Power Plants – Reduce Consumptive Use
1,500 – 160,000
$1,000 - $4,000
Reservoir Evaporation
0 – 270,000
$500 - $2,000
River Basin Imports
30,000 – 700,000
Needs more refinement
Stormwater Storage
0 – 100,000
$600 +
Vegetation Management
20,000 – 150,000
$30 - $100
Water Imports Using Ocean Routes
10,000 – 300,000
$1,400 - $4,000
Water Reuse
20,000 – 800,000
$900 - $1,700
Weather Modification
150,000 – 1,400,000
$20 - $30


One can see numerous interface points with the water-energy nexus with the planning list detailed above.  Clearly the Power Plant – Reduction of Consumptive Use is a category critical to this research and paper.  The report further outlines the following in the context of power plants (Colorado River Water Consultants, 2013):

“Thermoelectric power generation requires a significant amount of water within the Basin to provide cooling to power plants and remove waste heat from the power generation cycle.  Evaporative cooling is the most common method used within the Basin.

The White Paper compared “wet cooled” systems, such as once-through cooling systems and recirculated cooling systems water systems, to air-cooled systems, which use an air-cooled condenser instead of the typical water-cooled condenser.  It was found that air-cooled systems eliminate the consumptive use of water for plant cooling, but at the cost of lower plant efficiencies and increased plant capital costs.  The Technical Committee determined that this option should be addressed by individual States.”

Any attempt to reduce the consumptive use of water for power plants in the region must first consider the scale of the endeavor.  This a sample of power plants in the Colorado River System (Colorado River Water Consultants, 2013):

Plant Name
Plant Capacity (MW)
Consumptive Use (Acre-feet per year)
Water Source
Lake Powell
Jim Bridger
Green River
Four Corners
San Juan River
San Juan
San Juan River
Cottonwood Creek
Huntington Creek
Green River
Reid Gardner
Muddy River
Hams Fork River
Yampa River
Price River
Yampa River
South Point Energy Center
Colorado River
Desert Basin Power
Central Arizona Project Canal Water
San Miguel River


In some respects, the power generation component of the water-energy nexus is more embedded with our water delivery systems than people and policy makers realize.  For example, the energy needed to move agricultural water in California exceeds the electricity used by everyone in San Diego.  Consider the following (Los Angeles Times , 2014):

“The energy cost of water also varies by locale.  Water transported to Southern California is almost three times as energy intensive as water moved in the southern part of the state.  Likewise, it’s more expensive to bring water to houses atop the Hollywood Hills than by those in the flatlands.  Some uses consume more energy as well.  Watering outdoor plants, which results in no sewage treatment, demands less energy than, say, running the dishwasher.

The biggest spigot, though, is the agricultural sector, which consumes 60% of the state’s water.  Water used for farming requires less treatment and doesn’t wind up in the sewer, so it’s less energy intensive per gallon.  Still, the volume dwarfs any other water use.

The energy needed to move agricultural water exceeds the electricity used by everyone in San Diego.”

In closing, it should also be noted that The World Bank is also increasingly concerned about the water-energy nexus in both the developed and developing world (The World Bank, 2014).  Their new initiative aims to address the interconnection between energy and water head-on by providing countries with “assessment tools and management frameworks” to help governments “coordinate decision-making” when planning for future energy and water infrastructure.  The name alone of the World Bank website paints a picture for the energy and power industries – Thirsty Energy.  Consider the following from a report issued this year (The World Bank, 2014):

“Today, more than 780 million people lack access to potable water, over 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity.  At the same time, estimates show that by 2035, global energy consumption will increase by 35%, while water consumption by the energy sector will increase by 85%.  Climate change will further challenge water and energy management by causing more water variability and intensified weather events, such as severe floods and droughts.

While a global water crisis could take place in the future, the energy challenge is present.  Water constraints have already adversely impacted the energy sector in many parts of the world.  In the U.S., several power plants have been affected by low water flows or high water temperatures.  In India, a thermal power plant recently had to shut down due to a severe water shortage.  France has been forced to reduce or halt energy production in nuclear power plants due to high water temperatures threatening cooling processes during heatwaves.  Recurring and prolonged droughts are threatening hydropower capacity in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, China and Brazil.”

Thermal pollution has a range of impacts on water quality.  These are discussed in the following from Wikipedia (Wikipedia, 2014):

“Elevated temperature typically decreases the level of dissolved oxygen of water. This can harm aquatic animals such as fish, amphibians and other aquatic organisms. Thermal pollution may also increase the metabolic rate of aquatic animals, as enzyme activity, resulting in these organisms consuming more food in a shorter time than if their environment were not changed.   An increased metabolic rate may result in fewer resources; the more adapted organisms moving in may have an advantage over organisms that are not used to the warmer temperature. As a result, food chains of the old and new environments may be compromised. Some fish species will avoid stream segments or coastal areas adjacent to a thermal discharge. Biodiversity can be decreased as a result.

High temperature limits oxygen dispersion into deeper waters, contributing to anaerobic conditions. This can lead to increased bacteria levels when there is ample food supply. Many aquatic species will fail to reproduce at elevated temperatures.

Primary producers are affected by warm water because higher water temperature increases plant growth rates, resulting in a shorter lifespan and species overpopulation. This can cause an algae bloom which reduces oxygen levels.

Temperature changes of even one to two degrees Celsius can cause significant changes in organism metabolism and other adverse cellular biology effects. Principal adverse changes can include rendering cell walls less permeable to necessary osmosis, coagulation of cell proteins, and alteration of enzyme metabolism. These cellular level effects can adversely affect mortality and reproduction.

A large increase in temperature can lead to the denaturing of life-supporting enzymes by breaking down hydrogen- and disulphide bonds within the quaternary structure of the enzymes. Decreased enzyme activity in aquatic organisms can cause problems such as the inability to break down lipids, which leads to malnutrition.

In limited cases, warm water has little deleterious effect and may even lead to improved function of the receiving aquatic ecosystem. This phenomenon is seen especially in seasonal waters and is known as thermal enrichment. An extreme case is derived from the aggregational habits of the manatee, which often uses power plant discharge sites during winter. Projections suggest that manatee populations would decline upon the removal of these discharges.”

Water Requirement Examples for Electric Power Plants

The BP Energy Outlook 2035, January 2014 outlines several trends that will ultimately indirectly impact the water-energy in the coming decades (the report offers no direct water-nexus concerns which should be noted):

·       Primary energy demand increases by 41% between 2012 and 2035, with growth averaging 1.5% per annum.

·       We are leaving a phase of very high energy consumption growth.  The 2002-2012 decade recorded the largest ever growth of energy consumption in volume terms over a ten year period, and this is unlikely to be surpassed in our timeframe.

·       Coal’s contribution to growth diminishes rapidly.

·       Energy consumption grows less rapidly than the global economy.

·       One of the longest established trends in energy is the increasing coal of the power sector.

·       Coal’s share declines in all sectors.  In power generation, the largest coal consuming sector, the share of coal will decline from 43% in 2012 to 37% by 2035, as renewables gain share.

·       Looking beyond 2030 illuminates a potential turning point for nuclear energy.  Many reactors among the first adopters of nuclear technology, such as the U.S. and Europe, will approach technical retirement, while only a few countries plan to add new capacity.  Even allowing for additional lifetime extensions, we may well see a peak in nuclear energy.

·       Historically, as economies grew richer and more sophisticated, the fuel mix became more diversified.  The scope for changes in the fuel mix depends on technology, resource endowments and tradability, and the underlying economic structure.  As incomes rise we put a premium on cleaner and more convenient fuels.  The actual substitution between fuels is typically guided by relative prices.

The outlook of the U.S. Energy Information Administration paints a better and more clear picture of the challenges embedded in the water-energy nexus during this century (Hadian & Madani, 2013):

“The outcomes reveal the amount of water required for total energy production in the world will increase by 37% - 66% during the next two decades, requiring extensive improvements in water use efficiency of the existing energy production technologies, especially renewables.”

The cooling system is an essential component in most electric power plants.  Several different types of systems are available that have unique impacts to the water-energy nexus.  These are (Carney, 2010):

·       Once-through, fresh water cooling systems are more likely to be affected by lower water levels in lakes, rivers, and streams that occur in sustained drought periods.  The vast majority of once through cooled power plants in Texas withdraw water cooling reservoirs that were constructed by a utility to support the power plant.  Cooling water is pumped through a condenser to condense the steam which is then pumped back to the boiler to complete the cycle.  Virtually all the cooling water is returned to the cooling reservoir where it re-circulates, cools naturally, and can be pumped back to the condenser or used for other purposes.  Once-through cooling systems are the simplest, least expensive, and most effective technology for condensing steam, providing the best power plant efficiency (i.e., the most electricity is produced for the amount of fuel burned).

·       Once-through, salt water cooling systems withdraw and discharge from larger bodies of water (oceans, bays and sounds) which are slightly less likely to be affected by lower water levels in sustained drought periods, though they can be affected by temperature regulations.

·       Wet cooling tower systems pump water from a water source (which can be municipal wastewater plant effluent, captured rain and storm water runoff, groundwater, and/or surface water) through a condenser and then to a cooling tower.  Large fans (forced draft) or hyperbolic designs (natural draft) provide air flow to dissipate the transferred heat from the cooling water to the air, primarily by means of evaporation.

·       Closed-cycle, hybrid and other systems either reuse water after withdraw or use very little water for cooling.  Over half of the cooling systems at U.S. power plants re-use water through a cooling tower, though some of the larger plants in the nation have once-through systems from fresh water sources.  There are currently no power plants in Texas with hybrid cooling systems.  Hybrid cooling systems are dual cooling systems that have both a wet cooling component and a dry cooling component.  The two primary types of hybrid cooling systems and plume abatement systems and water conservation systems.

·       Dry-air cooled systems use essentially no water for cooling purposes but are not in wide use at this time.  There are only two power plants with dry cooling systems currently operating in Texas.  Both of these plants employ air-cooled condensers (ACCs) to condense steam, this is known as direct dry cooling.  Because more electricity must be used to operate the cooling equipment, less net electricity is produced form the fuel burned.  This translates to increased fuel consumption.

The Texas Water Resources Institute recently completed a study of 24 Texas power plants with one-through cooling systems (Water Conservation & Technology Center, 2012).  The water consumption information is provided below.  While this is not an exhaustive list, it is fairly representative of Texas plants using once-though cooling.

Water Consumed (ACFT/Plant Unit)
Water Consumed Per Electric Generation (ACFT/ 1,000 MWH)
Water Consumed Per Electric Generation (Gallons/KWH)
Plant 1
Plant 2
Plant 3
Plant 4
Plant 5
Plant 6
Plant 7
Plant 8
Plant 9
Plant 10
Plant 11
Plant 12
(2 Units Combined)
Plant 13
Plant 14
Plant 15
Plant 16
Plant 17
Plant 18
Plant 19
Plant 20
Plant 21
Plant 22
Plant 23
Plant 24


In summary, there are a range of cooling systems.  However, two types of systems account for the vast majority of power plant cooling.  The first system (open-loop wet cooling) withdraws a lot of water but consumes relatively little of what it withdraws; the second system (closed-loop wet cooling) withdraws less water but consumes a larger proportion of what it withdraws.  Unfortunately there is a tradeoff between water withdrawal and water consumption.  Either withdrawal is relatively high but consumption is relatively low or withdrawal is relatively low and consumption high (Argonne National Laboratory, 2012).

The 1970s saw a shift in how power plant cooling systems were designed (Carney, 2010).  Plants built before the 1970s tended to withdraw large amounts of water via open-loop-wet cooling systems.  In response to concerns about their impact on marine life, most plants built since the 1970s use closed-loop wet cooling systems that withdraw relatively less water, but consume large quantities of water. 

Engineers would agree the existing closed-loop wet cooling in gas-fired power plants consumers approximately 180 gallons to produce one MWh of electricity (one MWh is roughly the electricity required by an average plasma screen TV per year).  All thermoelectric power plants including natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear and solar thermal also have options for alternative cooling systems (dry or hybrid).  However these options generally reduce the efficiency (the heat rate increases) and more expensive).

Thermoelectric power plants use water to cool down (condense) steam after it has been used to turn a stream turbine to generate power.  For once-through cooling systems fed by fresh water sources, the need to withdraw significant amounts of water makes these plants more vulnerable to deratings or outages when water levels drop or water temperatures rise.  When water levels fall significantly, water intake structures may be exposed above the water surface, causing the plant to become nonoperational.  Additionally, at higher water temperatures, generators are less efficient, reducing the power capability of the plant.  Some areas also place regulatory limits on the temperature of the water a cooling system discharges.  At times of excessive heat, power plants are not allowed to raise water temperatures past levels safe for species of fish and other aquatic life (The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 2013).

The table below outlines water consumption for electric generation in the Southwest States (Argonne National Laboratory, 2012).  Keep in mind the water-energy nexus deals with both water withdrawal (electric power plants account for more than 40% of water withdrawal in the U.S. while electric generation in the Southwest States consumes less than 2% of the total amount of water withdrawn).

Water Consumption for Electric Generation in Southwest States
Withdrawal Rate (cfs)
Consumption Rate (cfs)
Percent Consumed (%)
Net Generation 2010 (MWh)
Net Generation per Water Consumed (MWh per cfs)



Modeling the Impact of River Temperatures and Electricity Prices

Thermal-based power facilities, such as nuclear and coal-fired, are critically dependent on water for cooling.  This enables them to maintain high production efficiencies (i.e., lower heat rates).  As previously mentioned, the thermal industry accounts for roughly 40% of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States.  The majority of these withdrawals are actually returned to their source.  The excess thermal energy absorbed by cooling water during the heat exchange will naturally cause it to warm up prior to being released back into the river of lake from which it was withdrawn.  This can ultimately raise ambient temperature of the water source itself and cause detrimental effects to the aquatic ecosystem.

The context of the water-energy nexus is typically stated in terms of quantity.  Will there be enough water for cooling?  But another issue is quality.  The Fourth Assessment Report of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that future energy generation will be vulnerable to higher temperatures and a reduced availability of cooling water for thermal power stations.  This is a key point regarding climate change and drought conditions – rising water temperatures reduce the cooling efficiency of thermal power plants.

McDermott and Nilsen of the Norwegian School of Economics have extensively studied electricity prices, river temperature, and cooling water scarcity in the German energy markets.  It is a well-known operational fact thermal energy can be converted into electrical energy more efficiently in the presence of an external coolant, such as water – in other words the production of electricity is contingent on the difference in temperature of the discharge water at the outlet point.  This is illustrated in the following equation:

Q = A(TEW-T) x W, where (also see Exhibit 1)

Q = Production of electricity

TEW = Temperature of the discharge water at the outlet point

T = Temperature of the water at the intake point

The production of electricity by thermal-based power plants is subject to the following constraint:

W/S x TEW + (S-W/S) x T ≤ T*, where

T* = Cap on the temperature of the downstream river (typically set by environmental authorities)

S = River volume

S – W = River water not used for cooling

W/S = Share of total river water for cooling

The constraint equation implies that rather than completely shutting a power plant down, the operators of the plant have the option of reducing the flow of discharge relative to the volume of downstream mixing water when the temperature of each unit of discharge water, TEW, is relatively hot.  The authors point out as the temperature of the river water itself approaches the regulatory limit (e.g., during the very hot summer months common in the Southwest) the plant management has little room for maneuvering and will likely have to decrease electricity output.

Remember that environmental authorities will also typically impose limits on the temperature of the discharge water itself (TEW) and/or on the temperature differential between river water at the intake point and the discharge.

The strategic managerial decision variable to power plants in the model is quantity.  As pointed out in this class, electricity is a homogenous product that cannot be stored.  Demand must be perfectly balanced by supply at all times.

The authors further outline the model for profit, ∏, for thermal-based plants as follows:

∏= p(Q + F) Q – c(Q) – pW(RL) x W, where

P(Q + F) = The inverse demand function and total electricity demand is the sum of power produced by the analyzed plants, Q, together with electricity imports and the other sources that aren’t dependent on cooling water (e.g., wind power), F

C(Q) = The marginal costs associated with the production of additional quantities of electricity

pW(RL) x W = Reflects the fact that there are costs associated with drawing cooling water, W, from the external coolant (river).  These are said to be a function of the river level, RL, such that pW<0

The research of McDermott and Nilsen rests on two demand and supply equations, where electricity prices and quantities are jointly determined in a “market-clearing equilibrium.”  The supply and demand equations that form the basis for their regression model is as follows:

Supply equation

lnPt = βo1lnQt2lnRiver Level+β3lnRiver Temp.+β4lnFttTt+Vt

Demand equation



P = Daily clearing price for electricity

Q = Daily electricity consumption

River Level = The aggregated river level

River Temp. = River temperature

F = Fuel (input) costs

HDD = Heating degree-day (degrees below 18⁰C outside air)

CDD = Cooling degree-day (degrees above 22⁰C outside air)

NWD = Non-work days (i.e., either a weekend or public holiday (0/1))

T = A set of seasonal and trend variables

The authors are primarily interested in the supply equation since this captures how electricity production is effected by access to cooling water.  The supply of electricity is defined by its price (P), which is then a function of quantity (Q) and several supply-related variables.  The supply side regressors of greatest interest for this particular study are river levels (River Level) and river temperatures (River Temp).  These two coefficients should reflect how electricity supply is constrained by diminishing cooling water availability, due to either relative scarcity (i.e., falling river levels) or regulatory concerns (i.e., river temperatures breaching environmentally sensitive thresholds).

The demand equation includes two terms that capture the nonlinear effect of changing temperatures on electricity demand – Heating degree day (HDD) and cooling degree day (CDD) capture the extent to which air temperatures fall outside a given comfort zone.  These two variables thus allow the demand function to respond to the discomfort presented by both cold and warm weather. 

The following is a summary regarding data collection for the model:

·       The data consist of daily values over the period 2002 to 2009.

·       Data on German spot electricity prices and values were obtained from the European Energy Exchange AG. 

·       The focus was exclusively on the base load – power plants most vulnerable to water-related factors – such as nuclear and coal-fired plants – are all base load electricity operators.

·       Air temperatures were obtained from the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst).

·       Hydrological data, in the form of river levels and temperatures, was obtained from the Federal Institute of Hydrology (Bundesantalt Fur Gewasserkunde).

·       Data measurements were taken from gauging stations situated at various German rivers – the Elba, Main, Necka, and Rhine.

·       These rivers acted as the water source for a number of nuclear plants during the 2003-2009 period, in addition to several coal-fired plants that also suffered reduced capacity due to restrictions.  The dataset was able to capture the relevant effects of cooling water scarcity and environmental regulations.

·       Apart from being log-transformed, data from the River Level series were entered directly into the regression model.  The authors made two adjustments to the River Temperature series to better capture how regulation of thermal pollution impacts electricity prices.  The first was to generate a standard dummy variable that tests for a difference in the price intercept when river temperatures exceed a defined regulatory limit of 25⁰C.  The second is to specially measure the continued rise is temperature above 25⁰C.  The authors point out this formulation is aimed at ensuring some flexibility and allows for a non-linear temperature effect around the regulatory threshold.  See Exhibit 2.

·       While oil-fired plants do not play a substantial role in the German electricity market, oil is widely used as a proxy for natural gas and it is even used within the power industry to forecast the general price movements of coal.

Table 1 reflects the results of the model efforts for the four primary German River basins.  The following results illustrate the key results and implications (McDermott & Nilsen, 2012):

·       The “Base Volume” (i.e., Elbe 8.099) is the coefficient on the contemporaneous volume of electricity that denotes the short-run, instantaneous impact of a change in quantity on price.

·       The long-run multiplier is found by incorporating the lagged endogenous variables of the model and can be calculated for the Neckar River Basin as [(8.081-3.672-2,271)/(1-0.623-0.0168)] = 4.699.  Testing this figure reveals it to be statistically significant at the 1% level.  What this means is that a 1% increase in electricity volumes will lead to a 4.7% increase in price over the course of a full week.  This describes a very inelastic supply curve.

·       Looking at the effect of river temperatures for the Main River Basin reveals that there is a positive impact of electric prices once the 25⁰C threshold is breached (all four river basins have a positive impact).  A 1% increase in river temperatures above the 25⁰C mark will yield an increase in contemporaneous prices equal to 0.22%.  The equivalent long-run effect is 0.98%.  Thus a temperature rise from 25⁰C to 26⁰C would bring about an immediate price increase of approximately 9.14% over the next seven days.  These effects are all statistically significant at the 1% level.

·       As can be seem from Table 1, the four river basins have individual river level coefficients that are all negative and thus indicative of a higher electric price when river levels fall.  In the case of the Neckar River Basin, a 1% drop in river levels will lead to a 0.6% rise in contemporaneous prices, or a 1.8% rise in the long run.

In conclusion the authors point out the following that all U.S. water and energy managers should make note of (McDermott & Nilsen, 2012):

“We have argued that Germany serves as a good case study to investigate these issues, and have based our analysis of daily data taken over a period of seven years.  Having successfully controlled for various demand effects within a simultaneous equation framework, our results indicate that electricity prices are significantly affected by both falling river levels and higher river temperatures.  The magnitude of these relationships varies according to the exact specifications of the regression model at hand and we have explored several contemporaneous and dynamic settings.  Qualitatively, however, they all tell a very similar story:  electricity prices are driven higher by falling river levels and high river temperatures.  Under a fully contemporaneous setting, the electricity price is expected to rise by around one percent for every one percent that river levels fall.  The dynamic specification, on the other hand, suggests that the price will rise at about half the rate in the short-run, before increasing to approximately one and a half percent in the long-run.  With regards to river temperatures, the models imply that the price of electricity will increase by roughly one percent for every degree that temperatures rise above a 25⁰C threshold.  Incorporating the longer-run effects implied by a dynamic model shows that prices will rise by nearly four percent over the course of a week.  In addition to this slope effect, we test for a price discontinuity on either side of this 25⁰C threshold.  However, we do not find evidence of a marked price jump once the threshold is breached.  An explanation, which is consistent with our theoretical model and the surveyed literature, is that power plants reduce their output in stages rather than simply shutting down.  This allows them some additional scope for managing thermal pollution, although a decrease in output – and hence in price – cannot be fully avoided.”

Van Vliet, Vogele, and Rubbelke have also examined the impacts on electricity prices in the context of water constraints in Europe from climate change (T.H. van Vliet, Vugele, & Rubbelke, 2013).  As previously outlined, climate change is likely to impact electricity supply in terms of both water availability for hydropower generation and cooling water usage for thermoelectric power production.

The authors utilized simulations of daily river flow and water temperature projections using a physically based hydrological-water temperature modelling framework with climate model data for 2031-2060.  These projections for river flows and water temperatures were used in a thermoelectric power and hydropower production model to calculate impacts on power generating capacity. 

Provided below is a summary of the methodology and results of the research (T.H. van Vliet, Vugele, & Rubbelke, 2013):

·       The thermoelectric model calculates water demands of power plants based on their efficiency, installed capacity, cooling system type and the maximum allowed water temperature (increase).

·       The authors focused on 68 thermoelectric power plants in Europe.  Selection was based on the availability of information.

·       The authors quantified the impacts of replacing a particular cooling system type – (a.) replacement of all once-through recirculation (tower) cooling systems, and (b.) replacement of all once-through systems by recirculation cooling systems and replacement of all coal lignite and oil-fueled to gas-fired power plants.

·       The research focused on the changes associated with wholesale electricity prices, production, and electricity producer surplus.

·       A key assumption was that in any point in time, electricity supply must meet electricity demand.

·       Climate change scenarios illustrated a sharp difference in mean annual river flow between northern and southern Europe.

·       North of 52⁰N is projected to have river flow increases of 3-5% while south will have declines of 13-15%.

·       For example, Greece is projected to have declines of more than 20%.

·       Increase in mean water temperatures are largest (>1⁰C) in central Europe (e.g., Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia) and south-eastern parts (e.g., Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia).

·       A combination of strong increases in water temperatures and decline in low river flow is generally most critical for cooling water use.  These conditions are mainly projected for southern, central, and south-eastern European.

·       The largest declines in mean useable capacity under “baseline setting” are estimated for countries in southern and south-eastern Europe.

·       Replacement of cooling systems and changes in the sources of fuel lead to an overall reduction in the vulnerability of thermoelectric power plants to climate change.

·       The authors concluded that overall higher wholesale prices would be expected for most countries; because the limitations in water availability and exceeded water temperature limits mainly affect power plants with low production cost (e.g., hydroelectric and nuclear power plants).  Strongest increases in mean annual wholesale prices are projected for Slovenia (12-15%), Bulgaria (21-23%), and Romania (31-32%) for 2031-2060 relative to 1971-2000 for “baseline setting”.  Sweden and Norway are exceptions, because mean water availability is projected to increase in these countries, and consequently more electricity will be produced there by “low-cost” hydroelectric power plants, putting costlier power plants out of operations.

The authors offer the following conclusions (T.H. van Vliet, Vugele, & Rubbelke, 2013):

“Overall, more electricity will be traded with changes in power plant availabilities in Europe under future climate and changes in power plant stock.  Autonomous adaptation via the European electricity market provides opportunities to partly compensate for the loss of power generating capacity in one subsector or location.  However, considering the high shares of hydropower, coal-fuelled and nuclear-fuelled power plants in most European countries, the vulnerability to declines in summer river flow and increased water temperatures can be high.  Planned adaptation strategies are therefore highly recommended, especially in the southern, central and south-eastern parts of Europe, where overall largest impacts on thermoelectric and hydropower generating capacity are projected under climate change.  Considering the high investments costs, retrofitting or replacement of power plants night not be beneficial form the perspective of individual power plant operators, although the social benefits of adaptation could be substantial.”

An attempt was made to explore the findings outlined in the previous European studies in the context of the Texas electrical markets.  The Big Brown Power Plant was selected for review.  The Big Brown Power Plant is located in Fairfield, Texas (Luminant, 2014).  The fuel source is lignite from Texas coal fields and is supplemented by Powder River Basin coal.  The operating capacity is 1,150 MW (2005 net generation of 8,549,084 MWhr) – enough to power about 575,000 homes in normal conditions and 230,000 homes in periods of peak demand.  Unit #1 was constructed in 1971 and Unit #2 was constructed the following year.  The plant is owned by Luminant.

The Big Brown Power Plant utilizes once through cooling (Ross, 2012).  In 2005, the water use was 6,093 acre-feet.  Cooling water consumption was 2,703 acre-feet.  Cooling water comes from Fairfield Lake.  Water Rights Permit No. 2351 A was issued to Texas Power and Light Company (presently Luminant) on May 9, 1968 and authorized the construction of a dam to impound 50,600 acre-feet of water.  Of that total, 19,700 acre-feet of water could be diverted annually by pumping from the Trinity River.  The permit allowed annual usage not to exceed 14,150 acre-feet of water for cooling a steam-electric generation plant.

Fairfield Dam and appurtenant structures consist of a rolled-earthfilled embankment approximately 3,250 feet in length, with a maximum height of 77 feet and a crest elevation of 322.0 feet (Texas Water Development Board, 1999).  The service spillway is located at the north abutment and is a concrete chute with an ogee crest.  The crest is 60 feet in net length at 299.0 feet.  Two tainter gates, each 14 feet tall and 30 feet wide, control the service spillway.  The emergency spillway located to the south of the dam, is an earth trench through the natural ground.  The uncontrolled broad-crested weir is 500 feet in length at elevation 314.0 feet.  The minimal operating elevation for the intake to the power plant is 305.0 feet.

No information on lake levels or temperature could be obtained via online report searches or repeated e-mail requests to the Texas Water Development Board.   Research did come across a major fish fill that occurred August 25-26, 2010 – which corresponds to a period of extreme drought in Texas (Leschper, 2010).  Because the watershed for Lake Fairfield is small relative to the lake volume, make-up water is pumped from the Trinity River to maintain elevation.  Trinity River water is high in nutrients (i.e., all of the wastewater effluent generated in the Dallas and Fort Worth area is discharged into the Trinity River), which are further concentrated in Lake Fairfield due to evaporation and a lack of water discharged through the dam.  This high level of nutrients of contributes to high phytoplankton and fish production in Lake Fairfield but also contributes to dissolved oxygen depletion during cloudy weather.  An estimated 1,255,674 fish were killed, which was higher than previous years (914,189 in 2009 and 121,568 in 2008). 

The Lake Fairfield situation is a good example of the water-energy-environment nexus.  Consider the following from the article (Leschper, 2010):

“TPWD biologists began to unravel the ecological factors contributing to fish kills on Lake Fairfield in fall 2009.  By combining oxygen data from datasondes with solar radiation data from a local weather station, biologists were able to understand the mechanisms leading to repeated kills at Lake Fairfield.

In late August and September, water temperature and bacterial activity are still high but day length shortens incrementally, in power-plant reservoirs such as Fairfield, water temperature and day length can become out of phase and increase the probability of fish kills.

Similar fish kills have also been reported at other power-plant lakes such as Victor Braunig and Calaveras near San Antonio but are much lower magnitude than those at Lake Fairfield.”

Having reviewed water level and water quality issues for Lake Fairfield, a specific time period around August 20, 2010 can be reviewed for electricity pricing information.  Pricing information was obtained for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) (Potomac Economics, 2011).  Consider the following information for this time period:

Price Hub
Delivery End Date
Average Price ($/MWh)
Daily Volume (MWh)
ERCOT Houston
August 19, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 20, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 23, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 24, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 25, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 26, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 27, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 30, 2010
ERCOT Houston
August 31, 2010
ERCOT Houston
September 1, 2010


The data is inconclusive regarding the water-energy nexus and pricing, but one can see the extra ordinary increase in power demand at the same time the Lake Fairfield generation station was utilizing water from other sources (i.e., the Trinity River).  This period of high demand, water resource constraints, and declining water quality produced an environment suitable for a massive fish kill.


One of the most pressing problems associated with the water-energy nexus is the lack of cross-sector collaboration.  Neither group (i.e., water or the energy industrial sectors) fully understands or appreciates the others operational needs and constraints.  In addition, both groups have a lack of incentives to take risks, both have financing challenges, and both face huge regulatory and policy constraints.  Table 2 illustrates what productive discussion between the two sectors might look like.

Consider the following (The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 2013):

“At a fundamental level, there is a lack of understanding between sectors about their respective operational needs and constraints, as well as a lack of broad systems thinking about the interdependencies between them.  Furthermore, water and energy utilities often have different goals and reward structures that create conflicting interests.  Players in the water sector need to develop a better understanding of how the power sector is regulated and how the electrical grid is managed.  While the power sector is quite heterogeneous, there are national reliability standards developed and enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, according to which all electric utilities must design their systems.  The nonstandardized nature of small-scale energy generation projects at wastewater facilities, therefore, is one reason electric utilities find it challenging to incorporate distributed generation sources into their portfolios.  In addition, interconnection fees and approval processes, as well as net metering policies, present hurdles to connecting distributed generation from wastewater treatment plants to the electric grid.”

This environment of multiple hurdles to cross-sector collaboration and navigating toward the infrastructure of integrating water and electricity is also under pressure from climate change and extreme weather events.  The science of climate is rather clear, given that science is always a closed-looped system where new information is constantly feed into old assumptions.  The scientific community is projecting the following in the context of climate change (Friedrichs, 2014):

“At the end of the twenty-first century, average global temperatures are projected to be roughly 2-7⁰ C above preindustrial levels.  This can be decomposed into about 0.6⁰C of global warming from about 1750 to 1990, plus an additional 1.1-6.4⁰C in the period from 1990 to 2100.  Overall, it seems safe to say that the world must be prepared for global warming of at least 2⁰C, and probably more, above present temperatures by the end of the twenty-first century.”

The Water Research Foundation also paints a dim picture of the water-energy nexus in terms of water resources planning, climate change, and water supply reliability (Water Research Foundation, 2008):

·       For the North Hemisphere, climate models project a broad pattern of drying in the subtropics, including the Mediterranean Basin and the U.S. Southwest.  The models project wetter conditions north of about 50⁰ latitude, but for other temperate areas, projected changes in total precipitation and runoff remain inconsistent across models.

·       Higher temperatures will increase potential evaporation, which may diminish water availability.

·       Changes in water supply reliability will broadly mirror the changes in regional precipitation and runoff, although changes in seasonal runoff patterns and the intensity and frequency of precipitation events will also affect supply reliability.

·       Longer dry spells and heavier precipitation events appear likely in most temperate areas including all of Europe, and the contiguous states of the U.S.  The supply reliability effects of such changes will depend upon the capacity of surface and groundwater systems to capture and store water from the heavier precipitation events for subsequent supply augmentation.

·       The impacts of warmer temperatures on seasonal flow timing will be especially significant in areas that currently depend on melting mountain snowpacks for summer water supplies, such as Western North and South America.  Impacts on supply security will likely be greatest for water users depending on direct streamflows in small watersheds, who also have limited access to storage capacity, or alternative sources of supply.

In conclusion, this paper hopefully has pointed out society and organizations cannot separate water and energy issues and constraints.  The two issues have many different and complex levels of interdependencies.  Future problems, such as climate change, will have cascading impacts for both water and energy.  Looking into the future, it is important for the two industries to further develop a joint operational model that allows for increased understanding, visualization, and discussions by key stakeholders and policy makers.  Engineers, managers, and policy makers in both industries must become more comfortable with a new operational environment of imperfect choices.


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