If you were to take a guess at what was one of the largest consumers of energy in California, what would it be? Skycrapers? Theme parks? Mega mansions? Surprisingly, the answer is water.
Specifically, the California State Water Project has been cited as the largest consumer of energy in the state, according to a 2004 NRDC report. And water-related uses -- farms, homes, businesses, and moving water around -- make up 19% of electricity used in California.
The moving water around part is a big job for the state's Department of Water Resources, which this week announced that it's looking to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases it uses.
The project, a water storage and delivery system of reservoirs, aqueducts, powerplants, and pumping plants, burns more than 3000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to Char Miller, Director of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College.
And where do those kilowatt-hours come from? Up to 50 percent of DWR's energy comes from a Nevada coal-fired power plant, which will no longer be a provider under the department's Climate Action Plan that aims to reduce 80 percent of emissions by 2050.
In 1990, DWR's total greenhouse gas emissions were nearly 3.5 million metric tons, according to internal estimates. That number is equivalent to emissions from 680,000 cars operating in one year. Currently, total emissions are double the 1990 number.
"In total, these measures are expected to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by more than 1 million metric tons and by more than 2.5 million metric tons in 2050," said Mark Cowin, the director of the Department of Water Resources, who approved the plan. "These are significant impacts in terms of climate change adaption for California's benefit."
The department cites the implications of global warming for California's water resources, acknowledging the state's dependence on the Sierra snowpack.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded the second driest December on record in 2011, noting that the Sierra snowpack was measured at the lowest on record in roughly 50 years in some locations.
One study published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Hydrometeorology concluded there are variations in precipitation each year. John Christy, the author of the paper and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, found that rates of precipitation bounce around from year to year. However, Christy notes that no matter one believes about global warming, droughts have been extremely problematic in California.
It makes sense, therefore, that the Department of Water Resources is looking toward sustainability in the long term.
As part of the new plan, the department will change current construction practices in order to become less reliant of fuel consumption and minimize landfill waste.
"It is things like limiting idling time of equipment. It's looking at all of our equipment and seeing that it's sized right for the job," explained John Andrew, assistant deputy at DWR.
Besides increasing efficiency of pumps and boosting renewable energy resources, the department says it will not renew a contract with that coal-fired power plant in Nevada. Instead the department will use energy from the California Independent System Operator, as it receives more than half of its energy supply from natural gas resources. While natural gas also adds to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it produces almost 45 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal, and lower levels of harmful nitrogen oxides and particulates.
"We're only one of some fifty-odd state agencies," said Andrew. "We're hoping we can set an example for our sister agencies."