Key Issues > Energy-Water Nexus
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Energy-Water Nexus

Water and energy are inextricably linked and mutually dependent, with each affecting the other’s availability. Water is needed for energy development and generation, and energy is required to supply, use, and treat drinking water and wastewater. Water and energy are also essential to our health, quality of life, and economic growth, and demand for both these resources continues to rise.

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Although freshwater flows abundantly in many of our nation’s lakes, rivers, and streams, it is a dwindling resource in many parts of the country. As the demand for water increases, demand for energy is similarly expected to grow. While the growth rate in energy consumption in the United States has slowed over time, overall consumption continues to rise. To help meet this increased energy demand, domestic energy production is rising, along with its associated water usage. This increase in water use associated with energy development is being driven, in part, by rising energy demand, increased development of domestic energy, and shifts to more water-intense energy sources and technologies.

A considerable amount of water is used to:

  • cool thermoelectric power plants,
  • grow feedstocks and convert them into biofuels,
  • extract oil and natural gas from geologic formations, and
  • extract oil shale in the event commercial production of this energy source becomes economically feasible in the future.

Some of these sources of energy, such as biofuels that require the use of large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to grow the feedstock, may also negatively affect water quality. In addition, development of oil and gas resources can produce large volumes of wastewater—known as “produced water”—that must be disposed of or treated to allow for its reuse. Conversely, significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas, additionally contributing to energy demand. Understanding and consideration of the link between energy and water will be essential to ensuring a sustainable supply of each.

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Energy-Water Nexus:

Information on the Quantity, Quality, and Management of Water Produced during Oil and Gas Production
GAO-12-156:
Published: Jan 9, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2012.

Energy-Water Nexus:

Energy-Water Nexus:

Energy-Water Nexus:

Energy-Water Nexus:

Improvements to Federal Water Use Data Would Increase Understanding of Trends in Power Plant Water Use
GAO-10-23:
Published: Oct 16, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 2009.

More Reports

Energy-Water Nexus:

Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs
GAO-12-880:
Published: Sep 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2012.
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  • portrait of Anne-Marie Fennell
    • Anne-Marie Fennell
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
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    • Frank Rusco
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
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