Forum highlights Utah’s water and energy interdependencies


A panel discusses water and energy issues. (Meghan Stettler, Governor's Office of Energy Development)

A panel discusses water and energy issues.
(Meghan Stettler, Governor’s Office of Energy Development)

Utah’s water and energy communities came together Thursday at the 2016 Water–Energy Nexus Forum. Water is needed to produce energy, and energy is needed to supply water. The second annual event explored interdependencies between Utah’s water and energy systems and sustainable methods for managing both resources.

Organized by the Rural Water Association of Utah (RWAU) and the Governor’s Office of Energy Development (OED), the event was held at the Davis Conference Center. Last year’s forum was the first of its kind in Utah.

RWAU director Dale Pierson opened the forum of over 200 water and energy professionals, noting that the purpose was to see “what we can do for each other.”

“We know that these resources are in fact interrelated,” said OED director Laura Nelson, and encouraged participants to “keep up the conversation about best practices” in both water and energy industries. Though there is “real uncertainty about how these resources are going to be available,” she explained, “the data can help us drive better decisions.”

Nelson also observed how we often don’t appreciate water until the well is dry, and we don’t appreciate energy until the lights go out.

OED director Laura Nelson addresses the forum. (Meghan Stettler, Governor’s Office of Energy Development)

OED director Laura Nelson addresses the forum.
(Meghan Stettler, Governor’s Office of Energy Development)

Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox delivered the keynote address. His remarks focused on the competing interests of urban and rural areas. The Wasatch Front receives much attention because of its dense population, but rural Utah is just as important.

“Why should we care about rural Utah?” he asked. “Well, it’s where you get your water, it’s where you get your energy, it’s where you get your food, and it’s where you recreate. Other than that, I can’t think of any [reason].”

Cox said that Utah’s population, which recently reached three million, is expected to double by 2050, creating additional demand for water resources. “Water is the limiting factor to growth,” he said.

Meeting additional demand will require proactive planning. “Water is one of those problems you can’t just fix [when it comes up],” Cox said.

A panel discussion addressed water and energy challenges and potential solutions. Panelists explained that there is no panacea for future water supplies, but that meeting the new demand will require a combination of conservation, reuse, and new water development.

Representatives of Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, one of the largest water suppliers in the state, shared how the District has been pursuing energy efficiency over the past few years. In 2015, the District managed to save 3.9 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 10% of its typical consumption, surpassing the original goal of 1 million kilowatt-hours. The financial benefits have amounted to $435,000 in direct energy savings, plus additional incentives from Rocky Mountain Power. Cascade Energy and Hansen, Allen & Luce assisted the District’s internal energy team in pursuing energy efficiency. A new case study and blog post published by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality describe the district’s strategies and results.

Alan Packard presents results of Jordan Valley Water's energy management program. (Robert B. Sowby)

Alan Packard presents results of Jordan Valley Water’s energy management program.
(Robert B. Sowby)

Dave Pearson described Salt Lake City’s first micro-hydro project, aimed at recovering energy from a large pressure-reducing valve (PRV) station on 500 South.

Sen. Margaret Dayton (R-Orem), who chairs the Water Development Commission, provided the legislative update, focusing on last year’s Gold King Mine spill and potential action by the attorney general.

Other topics included drought history, wastewater energy recovery, and Rocky Mountain Power wattsmart Business incentives for water utilities to undertake energy-saving projects.

Robert B. Sowby

Robert B. Sowby is a water resources engineer at Hansen, Allen & Luce. A graduate of BYU, MIT, and the U, he has contributed to over 100 civil, water, and environmental projects throughout North America.

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