The Rio Grande River north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Rio Grande River north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the majority of western US regions, freshwater availability is a challenging factor for developing new power plants. In some basins, surface and/or groundwater may be available through permitting with the state water-management agency, alternatively water might be purchased and transferred out of its current use to another, or nontraditional water sources can be captured and treated (e.g., wastewater). The relative availability and cost of each source are key factors in the development decision.

Unfortunately, these measures are location-dependent, with no consistent or comparable set of data available for evaluating competing water sources. That’s according to researchers (including Sandia’s Vince Tidwell and Barbara Moreland

[both in Sandia’s Earth Systems Analysis Dept.], Barry Roberts [in Sandia’s Geotechnology and Engineering Dept.], and Howard Passell [in Sandia’s Policy and Decision Analytics Dept.]) who have, for the first time, assessed the amount of water avail­able at a regional scale.

Water availability and projected change in consumptive use. Mapped are water availability metrics for (a) unappropriated surface water, (b) unappropriated groundwater, (c) appropriated water, (d) municipal wastewater, (e) brackish groundwater, and (f) projected change in consumptive water use between 2010 and 2030. All metrics are mapped at the 8-digit HUC level. All are mapped to a consistent nonlinear color scale; however the color scheme is reversed between availability and projected change in consumptive use (e.g., warmer colors indicate limited availability or increased use).

Water availability and projected change in consumptive use. Mapped are water availability metrics for (a) unappropriated surface water, (b) unappropriated groundwater, (c) appropriated water, (d) municipal wastewater, (e) brackish groundwater, and (f) projected change in consumptive water use between 2010 and 2030. All metrics are mapped at the 8-digit HUC level. All are mapped to a consistent nonlinear color scale; however the color scheme is reversed between availability and projected change in consumptive use (e.g., warmer colors indicate limited availability or increased use).

With the help of western water managers, water availability was mapped for over 1200 watersheds throughout the western US. “When all five water sources are taken into account, most basins have viable water options to meet future demand,” said Tidwell. Also mapped was projected change in consumptive water use from 2010 to 2030. Associated costs to acquire, convey, and treat the water, as necessary, for each of the five sources were estimated.

Read the article at Institute of Physics’ Environmental Research Letters.

Read the news story at Environmental Research Web.org.