We now know how many billions of gallons of water Colorado will save by closing coal-fired power plants | SteamboatToday.com

We now know how many billions of gallons of water Colorado will save by closing coal-fired power plants

By 2031 water use for coal-fired power plants in Colorado will drop to 3.7 billion gallons – a 68% reduction, according to the Energy and Policy Institute.

A bulldozer works on a mountain of coal at Twentymile Coal Co. near Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

The closing of 30 coal-fired generating units across the West – including 10 in Colorado – could free-up more than 76 billion gallons of river and groundwater a year in the increasingly parched region, although utilities appear cautious about giving up their water rights.

An analysis by the Energy and Policy Institute, a non-profit, utility industry watchdog group, found that there were potential water savings in seven western states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada Montana and Wyoming – where coal plant closures are set to close over the next 10 years.

“The savings are significant in every state,” said Joe Smyth, the author of the analysis. The biggest savings could come in the Upper Colorado River Basin where power plants used an average of 53 billion gallons of water a year between 1991 and 2018.

As some of the smaller power plants in the basin have already closed, 2018 water consumption was 11% below the 1991-2018 average, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data.

Twenty-one of the units scheduled to close use water from rivers, including the Yellowstone, the Green, San Juan, Laramie, North Platte, Yampa and Arkansas. Nine plants, including one in Colorado, use groundwater.

“The value of the water depends upon where it is,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, senior climate policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates. “Does it have uses for growing cities, or environmental benefits, or agricultural benefits? It will be dependent on location.”

“Public utility commissions across the West should consider those water resources,” Tellinghuisen said.

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