Water is an essential component of electricity production.  The production of electricity requires water for fuel processing, cooling, materials handling, combustion efficiency and environmental control.  Steam electric generation, including coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear units require abundant, and predictable quantities of water for these purposes.  To serve these needs, water is withdrawn from various water bodies.  In many instances, the majority of the withdrawn water is returned to the water source and is available to be used again.

While thermoelectric power generation currently accounts for 41 percent of total water withdrawals, it only accounts for approximately three percent of water consumed.  Electricity production accounts for a growing portion of water consumption (water removed for use and not returned to its source).  Accordingly, the electric power industry is partnering with government agencies, states and private research organizations to explore non-traditional sources of water for the industry, such as innovative water reuse and recovery designs, advanced cooling technologies and advanced power systems that are more water efficient.  We’re continually looking for new and innovative ways to enhance water quality.

Federal Regulations

In April 2014,  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed rule to revise the regulatory definition of "waters of the United States."  The proposed rule would fundamentally change the way the Clean Water Act (CWA) operates nationwide—expanding federal jurisdiction under the Act beyond traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, territorial seas, tributaries, and adjacent wetlands to a number of other waters. 

While EPA's objective may be laudable—to make the process of identifying waters of the United States less complicated by increasing CWA transparency, predictability, and consistency—the proposed rule does not meet that goal. Instead, it allows the federal government to extend its reach into virtually any landscape that can carry water—from ditches used to channel stormwater to erosional features in the arid Southwest that may carry water once every few years. This will result in some very real and meaningful unintended consequences: replacing state authority with expanded EPA control and slowing the transition to increasingly clean fuel sources.
EEI continues to work with a broad cross-section of associations to educate policymakers in the House and Senate and others about the electric power industry's concerns with the proposed rule. EEI also submitted comments on the rule, which encourage EPA to withdraw the proposed rule and engage in a meaningful stakeholder dialogue to create reasonable and focused rulemaking.