What is the Water-Energy-Food Nexus?

Water, the single most essential element for life, is also crucial to maintaining the health and growth of our world economies.

To produce electricity, we need water. Roughly 75% of all industrial water inputs are used for energy production.(1) For example: fossil fuel, biofuel production and gas extraction or ‘fracking’, all require a substantial amount of water. Energy is also used to extract, treat and distribute water to our houses and buildings, and to sustain agriculture.  

Image from ClimateRealityProject.org

To put the energy usage outlined in the above graph in perspective, to produce 2.2 lbs. of rice it requires 800-1300 gallons of water,  for 2.2lbs. of wheat 238 gallons of water are used and for 2.2 lbs of potatos 132 gallons of water are used. (2) This is the water-energy-food nexus.

The U.S public water supply and treatment facilities consume enough energy to power over 4.5 million homes for an entire day. In fact, the State Water Project is the largest consumer of electricity in California.

Graphic on the water-energy nexus from the US Dept. of Energy (DOE

As human populations and our economies continue to grow, the demand for all three resources will keep increasing, adding more stress to our water supplies.  Agricultural products and electricity are expected to double by the year 2050, and by 2035, water usage for energy production could increase by 20% and overall consumption by could grow to 85%.

When there’s not enough water in lakes, rivers, aquifers and reservoirs to cool down power plants, shortages and shutdown will occur. If the US only had one day without water in would result in a loss of $43.5 billion in sales and $22.5 billion in GDP.

Decision-makers are increasing their focus on water resource management, sanitation and the protection of our water supplies. However, we are all responsible on this planet for protecting our water resources. The implementation of policies, and the use of water efficient and hybrid technologies, can prevent us to further damage our water supplies.

Water is a finite resource. Ensuring everyone’s access to a reliable supply is vital to our survival and sustainable progress. Let’s all do our part and work together to protect our resources.

(1) UNESCO, 2014

(2) WWF, 2006