Conserving water will require less energy consumption for water pumps.
Conserving water will require less energy consumption for water pumps.

Policymakers are taking a harder look at the state’s water-energy relationship.  The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) primary finding in its 2005 report was that saving water saves energy.  The underlying premise is that reducing water consumption avoids the amount of energy used “upstream” in the water use cycle (to collect or produce that water, to transport and treat it, and to deliver it) and “downstream” (to treat wastewater and safely dispose it).  The CEC used the term “energy embedded in water,” or “embedded energy,” to represent the value of energy savings accumulated upstream and downstream of reduced water consumption.

At the crux of the state’s water-energy initiative is the question: should investor owned energy utilities recognize water conservation as an energy efficiency measure due to the embedded energy saved, thereby making it eligible for energy efficiency incentives?

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is conducting several embedded energy in water studies to help answer this question and come to a policy decision.  A number of water-energy pilot projects that demonstrate the potential energy savings from water conservation are currently undergoing evaluation, measurement, and verification. 

One of the barriers to answering this question is the disconnect between the locations in which water is conserved and energy is reduced.  Conserved water saves energy both upstream (all the way to the source) and downstream of the end user.  This means water savings in Southern California can save energy at pumps in Northern California often crossing energy utility service areas.  It’s unclear which energy utility should fund water conservation or gets credit for associated energy savings in this scenario.

A broad state-wide perspective and valuation of the benefits of conserving water and embedded energy could add additional impetus to water efficiency programs.   However, stakeholders need not wait for such a policy – there are many opportunities for water agencies, energy utilities, and consumers to collaborate now on innovative ways to save both energy and water.

  • On-Site Water Recycling Policy Brief

  • On-Site Water Generation

  • Best Practices Study

  • Recycled Water Study

  • On-Site Water Recycling Policy Brief

    California continues to face various challenges in reliably meeting its demand for water. As population increases and the aging water infrastructure becomes less efficient, drought and water scarcity remain long-term concerns. Water recycling is thereby emphasized in California policies and mandates as one way to alleviate some of the uncertainties in the future water supply. A 2012 Alliance Huntington Beach study found that on-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. Such on-site technologies can be a good fit for developers interested in reducing the water consumption of new commercial and municipal buildings. In addition, the customization options of the systems are appealing, and the cost is incremental as compared to larger municipal water recycling and desalination efforts.

    Nevertheless, on-site water recycling is a relatively new concept and doesn’t fit neatly into existing jurisdictions overseeing water-recycling and water- and waste-water treatment. Figuring out who has jurisdiction can be tricky for project developers as well as for those charged with preserving public health and safety. Still, the demand for non-potable water for uses like flushing toilets and irrigating landscapes could be met by recycled water, and frameworks have been developed to enable on-site water recycling to meet those needs.

    In December 2013, the Alliance completed a study entitled California On-Site Water Recycling: Policy Brief that documents the barriers to implementing on-site water recycling systems and also presents potential solutions. The policy brief focuses on these barriers:

    • Lack of clear information about how to apply for permits
    • Expensive daily coliform laboratory sampling and analysis
    • Stringent certification requirements for system operators

    Key study conclusions include:

    ·      On-site recycled water systems are an emerging technology with the potential to play a role in helping manage California’s increasing water scarcity. 

    ·      Immediate actions should be taken to perform additional work on understanding potential regulatory models, estimating benefits, and initiating pilot activity.

    ·      An information portal should be designed so that potential developers of on-site water recycling systems and staff at key agencies have access to detailed information. 

    ·      One stretch goal to work towards is an exception to the Title 22 requirement for daily coliform sampling for on-site water recycling systems with a track-record of high water quality.

    The study also highlights a number of case studies as examples of on-site water recycling. Download  the full report for more details.


  • On-Site Water Generation

    California water supplies are stressed as a result of decreasing supply and increasing demand.  While conservation and efficiency are the most cost effective solutions, they may not completely solve the problem. Water recycling is an additional solution that is applicable across the entire state and can produce a relatively consistent resource regardless of the season or weather.  Wherever there is a wastewater treatment plant there is an opportunity to generate a local, sustainable supply of recycled water.  Indeed, generating recycled water is not a challenge, distributing it is.  A major barrier to implementing a successful regional recycled water system is the cost of distribution pipelines.

    Recycled water can be implemented on a smaller scale; generating water in the same location as its demand eliminates the need for expensive distribution systems. Similarly, rainwater harvesting can also provide a local, low-cost supply of water. On-site water generation (both recycling and rainwater harvesting) has the potential to not only conserve water but save energy used by supply and distribution infrastructure.

    In December 2012, the Alliance completed a study entitled On-Site Water Generation: An Analysis of Options and Case Study  that documents the characteristics of the on-site water generation systems and also conducts a detailed cost benefit analysis for a representative case study on the City of Huntington Beach. The study sought to understand:

    • Types of technologies available to provide on-site water generation.
    • Costs and benefit analysis of the on-site water generation options.
    • Primary market barriers to technology adoption.

    Key study conclusions include:

    • On-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. 
    • On-site recycled water systems are most cost-effective in larger capacities. 
    • On-site water recycling can provide more water than rainwater harvesting. 
    • Rainwater harvesting systems are more cost effective in areas with a good balance of supply (rain) and demand throughout the year.

    The study also discusses a number of recommendations for California policy-makers to stimulate the production and use of on-site water generation. Download the full report for more details.

  • Best Practices Study

    In 2010 the California Public Utilities Commission completed a series of studies and pilot projects documenting significant opportunities for reducing the energy requirements of the water sector (including production, treatment, distribution and water conservation.) To build upon this, the Alliance developed the Eastern Municipal Water District: A Case Study of Best-In-Class Water-Energy Programs and Practices report documenting for retail water and waste-water agencies:

    • The range of potential energy efficiency and generation opportunities that could be implemented;
    • The types of programs and technologies available to help water agencies achieve energy benefits; and
    • The primary barriers that need to be overcome to increase adoption of “best” energy programs, practices and technologies. 

    The Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) serves as a case study to illustrate the types of strategies and measures California water agencies can implement to improve energy efficiency.  In the case study, the Alliance documented EMWD’s progressive implementation of multiple best practice strategies and interviewed operations staff to document barriers and lessons learned.

    Key findings from this study include:

    • A close relationship between water agencies and energy utilities is instrumental to achieving energy savings in the water sector; 
    • Smart meters and SCADA can provide large amounts of data to baseline the energy use of water agency; however, availability of detailed data is not required to identify promising energy saving opportunities.  A simple bill analysis could still lead to savings.
    • Technology risk and the need for investment prioritization may prevent water agencies from installing certain efficiency measures.
    • Newly adopted South Coast Air Quality Management District emissions limits may prevent water agencies from continuing to beneficially use biogas; complying with new limits may prove cost prohibitive for some water agencies.

    Download the full report for more details.

    Wastewater treatment plants have multiple options to reduce energy use
    Wastewater treatment plants have multiple options to reduce energy use
  • Recycled Water Study

    In the U.S., many non-potable uses are served by potable water that has been treated to safe drinking water standards established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state and local agencies charged with protecting public health and safety.  Recycled water can be used to safely displace use of potable water for these types of non-potable uses such as toilet flushing, landscape irrigation, commercial car washing, and fire protection. 

    Recycled water is produced by treating municipal wastewater.  California treated about 5 million acre-feet of municipal wastewater in 2002.  About half of that amount was recoverable as recycled water.  However, as much as 70% is discharged without beneficial use to natural waterways and to the ocean every year, representing a viable, untapped resource – a lost opportunity.

    Recycled water could be used to enhance potable supplies after undergoing highly advanced treatment. Several water agencies in Southern California are taking advantage of advanced technologies to produce recycled water that exceeds California drinking water standards.  These agencies are using this recycled water to protect and replenish groundwater aquifers that serve as a major potable supply to the region. 

    In May 2008, the Alliance released a study titled The Role of Recycled Water in Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Reduction that estimated the potential energy and carbon benefits of accelerating and increasing the development and use of recycled water in Southern California.

    Results of the study show up to 580,000 acre-feet of existing recycled water supply in Southern California is currently being released to streams and the ocean without benefit.  This supply could meet all of Southern California’s projected increase in water use through 20301 . According to the study, every gallon of recycled water that is not used to offset potable water use is a missed opportunity for California to increase water and energy supplies and to reduce carbon emissions.

    Download the full report for more information.  See the appendices for profiles of each of the participating water agencies.

    1As projected by the Department of Water Resources under a Business As Usual scenario

    Water Treatment Plant Operator holding a sample of recycled water
    Water Treatment Plant Operator holding a sample of recycled water