Water for power production or people? Google Earth to the rescue!

By James Maynard , Jun 02, 2013 07:33 PM EDT

Water usage by power plants present a hazard to the environment by consuming fresh water that can be a rare vital resource in some areas. Most generators run by having turbines that spin from the force of steam heated by the power plant, and water is also needed for cooling.

Fresh water demand is quickly rising due to rising population, while supplies diminish from a combination of depleting groundwater supplies and local droughts.

Coal-fired fuel plants generate around 40 percent of the electricity produced in this country each year, while consuming 150 billion gallons of fresh water each day to operate. Some such plants have either cut back or eliminated electrical production due to a lack of available water, according to the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy (DoE) compiled a nationwide database of non-traditional water sources near power plants using Google Earth. It is called the Alternative Water Source Information System (AWSIS).

Using the Google Earth interface, the application allows power plant designers to easily locate non-traditional water sources located within 15 miles or more from their plant. These sources include abandoned mine pools, treatment plans and aquifers. Produced water from the production of oil and gas is one of the non-traditional sources for which there is data available in the map. Six billion barrels of produced water was disposed during 2007, according to ALL Consulting. Saline aquifers that could be used by coal-fired plants are also included in the survey.

All known non-traditional sources of water producing 1,000 gallons of water or more are included. It would take five outlets that size to supply a typical 500-megawatt facility. Data is made available about each of these sources through the system, including the quantity and quality of available water. Basic information about various power production facilities is also available. Because there is little known about some of these smaller sources, the database will be updated as new information is learned.

The map was compiled as part of the Office of Fossil Energy's Innovations for Existing Plants water program run by the DoE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. It was put together by Arthur Langhus Lane Consulting (ALL), based in Tulsa.

The problem of the fresh water demands of people and power plants is being felt outside this country in Maharashtra, India, where the national branch of Greenpeace is concerned that the a local coal plant is exacerbating a drought, causing a water shortage in over 10,000 villages and hamlets.

You may view the interactive map at:

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