Water and energy

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The Rock River Basin has been blessed with substantial supplies of water from rainfall, which collects in underground reservoirs, standing bodies of water and flows off the land through rivers to the Mississippi.

Its presence creates challenges for modern life when drought strikes and when floods hit. In times of drought, communities ask their residents to reduce their water consumption by bans on lawn irrigation and car washing. During floods, the focus turns to moving citizens from flood-prone areas and providing supplies of water and food to those adversely affected.

As demand for water increases and government funds remain scarce, property owners and municipalities will need to rely on low-cost strategies to lessen the adverse impacts of droughts and floods. One is the enforcement of zoning laws, which prohibit building homes in flood-prone areas that can serve as flood storage, wildlife preserves and recreational areas.

An approach to home water management includes strategies to keep water on the property. Green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels and gray water recycling where permitted can lessen both runoff and home water demand. The strategy of getting water off the land as quickly as possible has meant costly stormwater management construction projects, more flooding and increased use of water for lawns and gardens.

We recently submitted a list of alternatives to the Winnebago County Board that could help cut water consumption. The Freedom Field project at the Rock River Water Reclamation District is designing a green roof to serve as a demonstration for others to consider installing on suitable rooftops.

Some economic predictions suggest it will take up to eight years of job growth to recover the 8 million jobs lost over the last two years from outsourcing our manufacturing base and other industries to low-wage areas. As increased efficiency in all sectors of our economy adds to the unemployment problem, it could become essential to continue to provide income to those seeking work but unable to secure it. Social tensions and strife increase when people are without jobs.

Beyond the income issue is one of what people will be able to afford to do for recreation. Frank Schier’s idea of creating a Rock River Trail to hike, bike, kayak and canoe is exciting. While it will bring some tourist dollars to the area, it will also provide citizens a healthy, wholesome outlet for relaxing and enjoying themselves despite difficult economic times.

It will also engage more of our citizens in activities that help reconnect them to water and nature. Such activities help offset the adverse impacts of the electronically-wired, couch potato culture in which we live. Over consumption of goods and services, poor personal health and self-centered, me-first orientation undermine the development of a wholesome socialized population willing to pursue goals for the common good and gain satisfaction from contributing to the welfare of the community.

Water serves many purposes, including that of developing energy. In turn, energy is used to pump water, distribute it and heat it to useful temperatures. The U.S. Energy Information Administration continues to project that by 2030, we will need 259 new power plants of 1,000 MW capacity. If provided by coal, natural gas or nuclear energy, substantial amounts of water will be needed for cooling.

According to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report, between 7 and 321 gallons of water are consumed growing corn for 1 gallon of ethanol and another 3 gallons to produce a gallon of ethanol. Between 1.9 and 5.9 gallons of water are consumed in producing 1 gallon of ethanol from cellulosic feedstock.

Substantial amounts of water are used to produce steam to turn the turbines in power plants fueled by nuclear or fossil fuels. Electric plants account for nearly 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals.

Increasing energy demand means increased consumption of our water supplies.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 7-13, 2010 issue

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