The first meeting of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum examined the challenges facing the energy sector in a period of drought. Here are some highlights of “Managing Drought in the Energy Sector,” a two-day meeting (Sept. 18-19) at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla., organized by the Western Governors' Association (WGA) for the Chairman’s Initiative of WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
MEDIA COVERAGE: Read stories from the Norman Transcript and watch a story by 7News (KSWO) about the Drought Forum meeting. Also: Read the latest U.S. Seasonal Drought outlook from the National Weather service.
"In Oklahoma we’ve been experiencing drought since the fall of 2010. Recent rains have reduced the severity and size of the drought, but still 70% of our state is experiencing some level of drought right now."According to estimates by researchers at Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma has suffered $2 billion in losses from the 2011 and 2012 drought.
"I signed the Oklahoma Water for 2060 Act that established an aggressive goal for water conservation in our state: To use no more fresh water in 2060 than in 2012.
"Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Public Service Company of Oklahoma, our state’s two largest electrical utilities, use treated wastewater to cool generating stations, which saves 3.28 billion gallons of fresh water annually."
Kevin Kloesel, Director of Oklahoma Climatological Survey: “Drought management is based upon cycles where you have to manage risk against an uncertain set of guidelines.”
Mark Shafer, Director of the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, noted that the Seasonal Drought Outlook from NOAA, which was released on Sept. 18, shows a good chance of more precipitation from the Southern Great Plains all the way to California. Despite that positive outlook, the precipitation won't end drought, but should improve conditions through year's end.
Kevin Kloesel: Answering "What's on the horizon" for weather research? "Current funding tends to focus on the very long-term (drought trend predictions) or dealing with real-time impacts. An encouraging development is more Congressional interest in funding seasonal outlooks, which give more predictability in the 30-day to seasonal forecasting window."
Mike Mathis, Regulatory Affairs at Continental Resources: “Water and energy is really a partnership.”
Darren Smith, Environmental Manager at Devon Energy Corp.: "Devon is committed to the principles of minimization of use, conservation and re-use where feasible in its operations through ... researching fresh-water minimization practices and employing economically and operationally feasible alternatives to fresh-water usage."
Usha Turner, Corporate Environmental Director at Oklahoma Gas & Electric: "The power sector uses a great deal of water but does not consume much. 97% of water withdrawn is returned to a fresh water source."
Sylvia Bender, Energy Assessments Division Deputy Director, California Energy Commission: Noted that Gov. Jerry Brown just signed legislation for groundwater monitoring. California is the last state to have regulations and do monitoring for groundwater.
Mike Sorenson, Senior Manager of Fuels and Water Resources, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association: "Tri-state is constantly looking at its infrastructure to make sure it is in good shape, so they won’t have pipe bursts or other water use that is inefficient."
Case Study: Managing Operations during the Southern Great Plains Drought with the Oklahoma Panhandle Regional Water Plan
Duane Smith, President of Smith and Associates: "The impetus for the plan was to change the conversation from 'Ag is the problem,' with producers being depicted as greedy irrigators who keep using water despite drought. Farmers were concerned that they would put regulations in place downstate (in OKC) when they don’t actually understand the way agriculture is done in the Panhandle."
Russell Isaacs, President of Oklahoma Panhandle Agriculture and Irrigators: "Water is our most valuable resource. If we don’t have the water, we almost cease to exist. It’s harsh – we have fields that haven’t had a crop in three or four years because of lack of water for irrigation."
Vicki Ayers-Portman, Executive Director of the Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition: "This isn’t the first time Oklahoma has been in a drought. We’ve had some moisture in the past couple of months and that tends to lead people to think that we’re OK. You need to start doing something now to get ahead of the next drought."
Gary McManus, State Climatologist at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey: Discussed the Oklahoma Mesonet, a "world-class" network of environmental monitoring stations commissioned in 1994 that includes subsurface temperature and moisture measurements in every state county.
Brian Fuchs, Assistant Geoscientist/Climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center: "Rainfall is just one factor we’re looking at when we put together the Drought Monitor. We also look at various datasets – the climatological data and also the impacts. Is there really a drought going on if no one is feeling it? If you’re dry, but no one is complaining about it, is it really drought?"
Mike Hightower, Distinguished member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories: "The biggest challenge is how to project uncertainty by doing better modeling and predictions."
"The whole idea is, no one sector – ag, environmental, oil and gas – can solve this problem by themselves. There’s not a single agency that can fix this by themselves; not a single state, not a single sector; we have to work together. That’s why working through WGA is so important."
Roy Hartstein, Vice President of Strategic Solutions at Southwestern Energy Corp.: “Our CEO gave Southwestern Energy a challenge to be 'water neutral' by 2016. For us, it’s not an objective, it’s not a goal, it’s an imperative. We’re driving this to the culture of the company to be water neutral, not just my six-person department. It’s a 1,600-person initiative.”
Ed Steele, Water Technical Manager at GE Global Research Center: “The people and the general public need to be sold on using treated water for it to ever work. The technology is there, but it is overcoming attitudes that is the real challenge.”
Dr. Jeri Sullivan Graham, New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Brackish Water Work Group: "Drought is repetitive – it is normal. Just start planning now."
Kevin Geraghty, Vice President of Energy Supply at NV Energy: "The megawatt that you never have to make is actually the most valuable thing in terms of water savings for the energy sector.”
J.D. Strong, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board: “What we need is a more thoughtful drought planning system. Planning way in advance for those worst-case situations, conserving our water whether in drought or not, reusing and recycling water, constantly innovating, and avoiding costs.”
Alaina Burtenshaw, Chairman, Nevada Public Utilities Commission: "Drought is the normal situation. We need to adapt to deal with these conditions on a regular basis. The 20th Century was the wettest century in the last 1,000 years. It has given us false expectations about what the future will be.”
Jennifer Gardner, State Energy Program Manager, Utah Governor's Office of Energy Development: "Utah is in a relatively good position relative to the rest of the West, but reservoir levels are still below normal and the state faces a real risk of running out of fresh water by 2025 if more aggressive conservation actions aren't taken now. That is the reason for the Utah Water-Energy Challenge, which seeks a 25% reduction in water use by 2025."
The Western Governor’s Drought forum is being conducted in partnership with NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System. The Oklahoma meeting was sponsored by the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment and National Hydropower Association.