In his plan for his first 100 days in office, Trump vows to “lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.”
It will be a “tremendous” boon to our economy, says Trump. It will lift forgotten workers out of poverty, says Trump. It will “make America great again.”
Let’s forget for a moment the horror-show that unrestricted energy production from underground fossil fuel reserves would be for our nation and the world in terms of human and ecological health and safety. Let’s forget the asthma and the cancer and the earthquakes and the species loss.
If the federal government could (and with the House, the Senate, the Executive and, soon, the Judicial all under Republican power, it could) remove restrictions on coal, oil, shale and gas production, there is one major restriction no repeal can touch: the availability of water.
The American energy system is entirely dependent on freshwater. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 41% of the freshwater in the U.S. is used to cool power plants today, even more than that used for industrial agriculture.
Problem is, the U.S. is already draining its lakes, rivers and underground aquifers far faster than they can be refilled.
The Ogallala Aquifer, which provides 30% of the groundwater for eight states across the Midwest, has lost enough water to fill Lake Erie; 13.6% of that was extracted in just two years (between 2011 and 2013). The Colorado River, the primary freshwater source for seven Southwestern states and 30 million people, is so dammed up and overtapped that rarely reaches its delta in the Gulf of California.
In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, wells are running dry. Contamination from agricultural chemicals are threatening the Great Lakes. Overuse has tapped out the Rio Grande River. Groundwater in southern New England is well below normal levels.
Climate is a factor here, yes. Drought, especially in the West and Southwest is hugely impacting our water resources. Mismanagement and water use for trivial purposes like green lawns are also major issues. But the biggest problem of all? Population growth.
By 2030, the population of the Southeast is projected to grow 40%. With more people, the region not only needs more freshwater for residential and public use, but it needs a whole lot more energy – especially in long hot southern summers. Twenty percent more energy, to be specific.
In the drought-torn Southwest, where major cities including Denver, Albuquerque and Las Vegas are already bickering over an extremely limited water supply, the region’s population is expected to double by 2030, increasing power needs by 30%.
Loosening restrictions on fossil fuel extraction and production will not change the availability of the freshwater needed to extract and produce it. But since facts, particularly scientific facts, are now open to interpretation, it’s not likely to matter that there is simply not enough water to extract $50 trillion in energy.
And as more of our lakes and rivers and aquifers are siphoned off for energy production, as our remaining groundwater is contaminated and public health and agricultural production suffer maybe President Trump and the new federal government will notice that there’s not enough clean, freshwater to go around. Maybe.