Drought- Water is vital for more than drinking
(Editors note: Based on the weather this winter, if things don't change, the local area will be experiencing a drought. This is the sixth in a series of articles examining droughts, water use, water storage/sources, personal water footprints and what the impacts of a prolonged drought has done in the past and can do to the eastern Utah in the future).
"All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was."
Imagine you run a manufacturing or processing business and you are trying to find a place to locate it. And imagine that for that business you would need a good supply of water to do that manufacturing.
Would you locate that business where water is scarce much of the time and during drought times supplies are even more sketchy?
That is part of the dilemma economic development officials in eastern Utah have. The area has a lot of pluses, but water is generally not one of them.
"Water for manufacturing is a consideration in at least a few businesses that have thought about moving to our area," said Delynn Fielding, the economic development director for Carbon County. "It just depends on the type of industry."
Fielding says that when businesses look at the area to locate here they are looking at a lot of factors: transportation, infrastructure, workforce availability, etc. But for some industries the spectre of water is a big consideration.
"Take food processing for instance," said Fielding. "They need a lot of water to do that."
But other businesses that make things need water too. Some need water to cool down things, others need it for cleaning items. Water is also used in some types of fabrication, used to dilute products or add to products and of course is also used for sanitation.
It is interesting to note that, and understandably so, that states that have industries that use the most water, have the most water available. States high on the cycle of water use are Louisiana and Indiana. One high use state is Texas, which suffered through a severe drought in the last couple of years. In some cases industries in Texas had a hard time of it because of that drought.
Utah ranks toward the bottom of states with high use of water for industry, but there are exceptions in various areas of the state. Eastern Utah already has an industry that consumes a lot of water; power generation. Making sure they have enough water to run is critical. During droughts of the past there had been speculation that if the water wasn't there in the quantities needed, some of these plants might be in trouble. A drought or other disruption could create a situation where plants don't have enough water to operate.
Electric Lake in Huntington Canyon was built in the 1970s so that the Huntington Power plant could have a constant supply of water. In conjunction with irrigators who use the water for agriculture, the lake is maintained at optimum levels when possible. The reservoir holds enough water for the plant could operate for up to four years in a drought cycle. It covers 425 acres and holds 35,500 acre feet of water when full.
The Hunter Plant uses water from Joe's Valley Reservoir. While that reservoir was not designed for the plant itself, it is an important part of keeping the turbines turning in lean water years.
The Carbon Plant in Price Canyon relies on Scofield Reservoir for much of its water. Built in the mid-1950s, there was quite a controversy as Utah Power and Light at the time bought up shares of water to be used for the plant, taking that water out of agricultural use.
The Co-Generation plant in Sunnyside gets its water from Grassy Trail Reservoir which is jointly owned with Sunnyside/East Carbon.
Generating electricity takes a lot of water, but the plants recycle it, first for steam generation and then for other plant processes. Super-purified water, with traces of chemicals to reduce corrosion, circulates through the boiler where is turned to high-pressure, high-temperature steam to turn the turbines. When its job is done, the steam is condensed and stored for another run through the boiler.
Once it has been through the steam-condensate cycle a few times, the water is put to use in scrubbers to remove sulfur gases, move ash and cool the system by evaporation in the cooling towers. When one looks at a power plant, they may see white clouds from the stacks above a coal burning plant. Those clouds are condensed moisture from the scrubbing process. The sulfur is chemically trapped and stays behind.
But what is really noted in terms of volume, particularly on cold days, is the amount of steam coming out of cooling towers. Each tower is a cascade, churning the warm water to expose it to air and cool off by evaporation.
A study done in 2008 by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center found that certain kinds of power generation use more water than others. All together fossil fuel powered power plants in the United States consume more than 500 billion liters of water per day.
The report noted that the fossil fuel that used the least water was natural gas operated plants (38 liters of water per 1,000 kilowatt hours generated). Coal burning plants use between 530-2,100 liters of water per 1,000 kilowatt hours, depending on how they are constructed and operated.
The study also looked at other kinds of power generation as well. With the Blue Castle Nuclear Power Plant slated to come on line near Green River sometime in the next decade, the controversy over water that would be used in that plant has been terrific. At this point in time the Utah state water engineer has given the okay for the plant to use water from the Green River, which advocates of the plant say will drop the level of the river by about one inch during high generation periods. That Virgina 2008 study showed that nuclear power generation was by far the most water intensive of any generation system using 31,000 to 74,900 liters of water per 1000 kilowatt hours. What the Blue Castle plant will use remains to be seen because as technology changes plants tend to become more efficient (as is demonstrated by the wide range of water usage noted above for both coal and nuclear plants).
Even in drought years however, Carbon county does have a bit of an ace in the hole if a water intensive industry did decide to move operations here. The Price River Water Improvement District's waste water plant produces 1.9 million gallons of effluent water every day. That water could be used for many industrial processes, depending on what they are.
"An industry can use that water as it is for processes in which humans do not contact it," said Jeff Richens, the district manager for PRWID. "We have a filing on the water that comes out of the plant. Actually we are looking for a customer for it."
Richens said that if the water needs to be culinary grade there would be processes that PRWID could use to bring the effluent to that level too. Of course cost of the water to any user would have to be negotiated.
While the best of plans have been laid to continue to support the industrial water users in the county, drought can still affect what happens. And another industry, agriculture, gets impacted the most when there is a drought, because not only do water supplies for irrigation wane, but generally the water from the sky does not come either.
Sources: USGS, Ieee Spectrum, Utah Division of Water Quality and leonardoenergy.org.