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Shrinking wastewater’s hefty carbon footprint

By Erica Gies
Communities looking to reduce fossil fuel use find opportunity in energy-hogging treatment plants.

This article first appeared on Ensia


Wastewater treatment plants are energy hogs. A 2013 study by the Electric Power Research Institute and Water Research Foundation reported that they consumed about 30 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, or about 0.8 percent of the total electricity used in the United States. Wastewater treatment’s high energy footprint is ironic because the organic matter in wastewater contains up to five times as much energy as the treatment plants use, according to the American Biogas Council. Reducing treatment plants’ energy footprints through energy efficiency and using the currently wasted energy could save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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A different kind of bank

Green banks are being set up to boost investment in renewable energy

The fossil fuel divestment movement argues that where we invest our money either helps move toward a cleaner future or props up polluting industries that are driving climate change.

Now government agencies are taking that idea to the next level by proactively encouraging investment in renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects. Called green banks, they are not banks as we typically think of them. They do not accept deposits from individuals, and they aren’t private institutions. Instead, green banks are government run and aim to leverage limited public funds by attracting private capital to these projects.

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Water down under

By Erica Gies
Lessons from Australia's revolution in water management.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet, a reality that was underscored by wildfires, dry riverbeds and struggling farmers during its decade-long Millennium Drought.

Beginning in 1995 and extending until 2012, the drought stretched Australia’s water resources to the limit. State and local officials were hesitant at first, but were forced to act as water flows dropped and aquifers began to run dry.

“There’s nothing like a crisis to drive interest in a reform,” said Mike Young, who speaks from experience. The professor of environmental and water policy at the University of Adelaide has been a leader in Australia’s water reform movement since the 1990s.

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Cities are finally treating water as a resource, not a nuisance

By Erica Gies
From Houston to Melbourne, the surprising ways urban areas are dealing with water woes.

Originally published on Ensia.

Memorial Day barbecues and parades were thwarted this year in Houston when a massive storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in two days, creating a Waterworld of flooded freeways, cars, houses and businesses, leaving several people dead and hundreds in need of rescue.

But it was a predictable disaster. That’s because, thanks to a pro-development bent, the magnitude of stormwater runoff has increased dramatically as Houston has sprawled across 600 or so square miles of mud plain veined with rivers, sealing under asphalt the floodplains and adjoining prairies that once absorbed seasonal torrential rains and planting development in harm’s way. Land subsidence from groundwater pumping and oil and gas development and, now, sea level rise and more frequent and severe storms are applying additional pressure from Galveston Bay, which sits just east of the city of 2.2 million.

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