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E = H2O: Water is energy

Alice La Pierre
Tuesday October 23, 2001

One wouldn’t think that watering a lawn and garden or washing a car would have any effect on California’s tense energy situation, especially since these activities don’t use hot water. 

But according to East Bay Municipal Utility District data, the winter runoff into the Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra foothills (our main water source) was only 56 percent of normal this year.  

While this is enough to meet current customer demand, it means we are heading into the fall with a shortage. So how does this affect our energy supply? 

California is currently the largest producer of renewable energy in the United States – approximately 15 percent of our energy comes from hydroelectric power, according to the California Energy Commission. 

There are 386 hydro-electric plants producing 41,617 gigawatt-hours of electricity, creating a dependable capacity of 14,116 megawatts of electricity. Some of that electricity is generated through pumping stations, where water is pumped uphill during off-peak times, and let flow back through the turbines to generate electricity during peak-use times. As the demand for water increases, more water must be let through to meet consumer needs, making less water available for pumping stations. 

Hydroelectric is non-polluting, unlike coal- and gas-generated electricity, which not only generate pollution, but heat water to make steam which turns the generators – wasting more fresh water. 

Data from the World Resources Institute’s 2001 Report shows that we have only half the amount of fresh water available per person worldwide than was available in 1960. By the year 2020, it is calculated we will have only half as much per person as we have now. The lack of fresh, clean water is likely to be one of the key factors limiting economic growth in the 21st century.  

Heating water is about half of the average family’s natural gas bill. The less hot water used, the more money a family saves. 

Reducing water usage can be achieved through a variety of ways. Immediate methods include: 

• Take shorter showers – a five-minute shower can save eleven gallons of water over a 10-minute one, as well as the energy costs to heat that extra water.  

• Wash clothes in cold water, and make sure you wait and only run the washer when you have a full load. 

• Scrape plates and bowls thoroughly before putting them in your dishwasher, and run the shorter wash cycle. There is a water heater inside your dishwasher, and roughly 80 percent of the energy used by dishwashers goes toward heating the water; the rest is used to run the motor that sprays the water, operates the heater unit, and the fan that dries the dishes. Air-dry dishes by turning off the machine and opening the door just as the drying cycle kicks in. 

Long-term water reduction steps include: 

• Reducing lawn size and planting native plants and drought-tolerant varieties of flowers and fruiting vines and shrubs. Good plants for Berkeley’s climate include pineapple guava, kiwi, citrus, poppies, sticky monkey flower, mugworts, plums, figs and almonds. Check with your local nursery for drought-resistant varieties. Trench soaker hoses underground permanently to reduce evaporation (and cut down on weeds!) 

• Replace old clothes washers with new, energy-efficient and water-conserving front-loading machines. You can get a double rebate on this appliance – one from PG&E, and the other from EBMUD, for a total of about $150 cash back until the end of December 2001. And don’t forget to use a solar dryer (clothesline). 

• Replace older dishwashers with a new EnergyStar model, and use the energy-saver features it has. PG&E has a rebate of $50 available for residential dishwashers purchased before December 2001, or until funds are depleted.  

For a complete list of rebate programs on all appliances, visit the website of the California Energy Commission at: 

EBMUD has a variety of water conservation programs, including irrigation rebates, free residential showerheads and aerators, plus a low-flow toilet rebate program for both residential and business consumers. For complete program details, visit their website at:  

If energy conservation isn’t enough to convince you to conserve water, remember that water prices are going up. Water bills are divided into four parts: the service charge, the Seismic Improvement Program surcharge (started in 1995 and payable over 30 years), the actual usage charge, and an elevation surcharge for locations over 200 feet. While water is still reasonably inexpensive at first look, remember that the total costs of water and energy are greater than what appears on your bill. 

For more information on saving water and energy, visit the Energy Office website at: 



Alice Pierre is the city’s energy officer. The Daily Planet runs “power play” the first and third Tuesday’s of the month as a public service.