Connecting the dots: Trout, water, and renewable energy

3 September 2013 by T. O. Smith T. O. Smith

Guest article by T.O. Smith, Renewable Energy Coordinator, Trout Unlimited

Headlines across the West these days seem to be monopolized by fire- or water-related news.  A recent National Geographic article outlines a Bureau of Reclamations report that resulted in a cut in water released from Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam by 750,000 acre-feet next year. That's about enough water to serve 1.5 million homes.  It's the first time in the history of the nearly 50-year-old Glen Canyon Dam that water going downstream would be cut.

What does this have to do with renewable energy and trout? There are lots of reasons for our water crisis, including drought, lack of conservation, and a growing population.  However, it is a little-known fact that 40 percent of U.S. freshwater withdrawals are used by power plants, many of which are aging and inefficient, and much of that water is lost through evaporation. While the ongoing shift from coal to natural gas will reduce power plant water use to some extent, the nation's strained freshwater resources will remain overburdened.













I am about solutions because I am about fish, and they seem to have a thing for water.  It turns out that the United States can dramatically reduce the amount of water we use (and that fish can’t use) by developing more renewable energy.  A recent report indicates that significant investments in designing power plants with a focus on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency could reduce the power industry's water withdrawals by 97 percent while also cutting carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050.

So it turns out that utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal developments, in addition to providing a home grown economy and cleaner air for our kids, also offer a major solution for the dwindling water supply that is suffocating our trout and my opportunities for catching them by returning water we have been borrowing to the system.  Of course renewable energy projects and related transmission lines come with some impacts like any use of our earth, be it a new retail store or amusement park, although I have found it difficult to find the value to trout in those types of development.  However, when I weigh impacts of renewable energy against the benefits for increased water for trout, it is easy to support some of these projects.

Anglers have some tough decisions to make concerning whether they will allow sacrifices associated with renewable development in exchange for long term solutions for trout.  The next time you hear of a proposed renewable energy project or related transmission line, I challenge you to not just think about the localized impacts or any distaste you might have for how these things look, but consider the long term benefit they will have.  Then decide if you support or oppose it.

You can read the full report at

T.O. Smith
(406) 495 9620 Office
(406) 461-9470 Cell
Helena, Montana

Photo credit: Julie Gentry, Rainbow Trout

Related articles:

Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief: Water is emerging issue, October 1, 2012
Opinion: Considering wind power and water use in Nebraska, August 24, 2012
On World Water Day 2012, a reminder: Use wind, save water, March 22, 2012
Saving water and reducing carbon: How Texas is doing both, November 30, 2011
New report highlights power plant stress on freshwater supplies in Southeast, November 21, 2011
Drought sears South Central states; wind power saving water, August 1, 2011
Think tank: Water needs may limit shale gas, some renewables, June 29, 2011
Water anxiety? Wind power can help, June 16, 2011
Wind Energy Conserving Water fact sheet