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This website is the digital version of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, produced in collaboration with the U.S. The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.
Climate change affects energy, water, and land use as well as the interactions among these sectors. Challenges from climate change will arise from long-term, gradual changes, such as sea level rise, as well as from projected changes in weather extremes that have more sudden impacts. Given the many mitigation and adaptation opportunities available through the energy sector, a focus on energy is a useful way to highlight the interactions among energy, water, and land as well as intersections with climate and other stressors. The authors met for a one-day face-to-face meeting, and held teleconferences approximately weekly from March through August 2012.
The TIR1 incorporates the findings of a workshop, convened by the author team, of experts and stakeholders. The TIR1 shows that the character and significance of interactions among the energy, water, and land resource sectors vary regionally.
The key message is supported by the National Climate Assessment Climate Scenarios (for example, Kunkel et al. The Texas drought of 2011 and 2012 demonstrates the occurrence of cascading impacts involving the energy, land, and water sectors; however, the Texas example cannot be generalized to all parts of the country or to all impacts of climate change (for example, see Chapter 3 for flooding and energy system impacts).
The links between and among energy, water, and land sectors mean that they are susceptible to cascading effects from one sector to the next. These extreme climate events resulted in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems. Energy, water, and land interactions complicated and amplified the direct impacts on the electric sector. The dependence of energy systems on land and water supplies will influence the development of these systems and options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their climate change vulnerability. Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.1 of the Climate Change Science Program,16 which informed the prior National Climate Assessment,17 describes relationships among different future mixtures of energy sources, and associated radiative forcing of climate change, as a context for evaluating emissions mitigation options.
Interactions among energy, water, and land resources have influenced and will continue to influence selection and operation of energy technologies. Competition for water supplies is encouraging deployment of technologies that are less water-intensive than coal or nuclear power with once-through cooling.
Every option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions involves tradeoffs that affect natural resources, socioeconomic systems, and the built environment.
Every adaptation and mitigation option involves tradeoffs in how it increases or decreases stress on energy systems and water and land resources. Particularly relevant to climate change mitigation are the energy, water, and land risks associated with low-carbon electricity generation. Bioenergy also presents opportunities for mitigation, but some potential bioenergy feedstocks are land and water intensive. Some sector-specific mitigation and adaptation measures can provide opportunities to enhance climate mitigation or adaptation objectives in the other sectors. For example, switching from coal- to natural-gas-fired electricity generation reduces the emissions associated with power generation. Significant quantities of coal are used in the blast furnace, natural gas and electricity to reheat and roll steel slabs into thin sheets, and electricity is tapped for coating and painting a range of downstream steel products. The Company uses an energy intensity index to calculate how efficiently we use energy compared to a base year. The combination of these factors affects climate change vulnerability as well as adaptation and mitigation options.
The independent implications of climate change for the energy, water, and land sectors have been studied extensively (see Ch. Other environmental and socioeconomic stressors interact with climate change and affect vulnerability and response strategies with respect to energy, water, and land systems. For example, energy production already competes for water resources with agriculture, direct human uses, and natural systems.
Climate change affects the individual sectors and their interactions; the combination of these factors affects climate change vulnerability as well as adaptation and mitigation options for different regions of the country.
They considered a variety of technical input documents, including a Technical Input Report prepared through an interagency process,1 and 59 other reports submitted through the Federal Register Notice request for public input. Department of Energy in Support of the National Climate Assessment.1 Technical input reports (59) on a wide range of topics were also received and reviewed as part of the Federal Register Notice solicitation for public input.

The TIR summarizes numerous examples of interactions between specific sectors, such as energy and water or water and land use.
Additionally, the influence of impacts on one sector for the other sectors will depend on the specific impacts involved. The Technical Input Report1 provides numerous additional examples and a general description of interactions that underlie cascading impacts between these resource sectors.
There are major uncertainties, however, in the magnitude of impacts in how decisions in one sector might affect another.
The primary limitation on the confidence assigned to this key message is with respect to its generality.
In some parts of the country, electric utilities and energy companies compete with farmers and ranchers, other industries, and municipalities for water rights and availability, which are also constrained by interstate and international commitments. High temperatures caused increased demand for electricity for air conditioning, which corresponded to increased water withdrawal and consumption for electricity generation. Drought reduced crop yields and affected livestock, costing Texas farmers and ranchers more than $5 billion, a 28% loss compared to average revenues of the previous four years.10 With increased feed costs, ranchers were forced to sell livestock at lower profit. More than 16% of electricity production relied on cooling water from sources that shrank to historically low levels,8 and demands for water used to generate electricity competed with simultaneous demands for agriculture and other human activities.
Extreme weather events may affect other regions differently, because of the relative vulnerability of energy, water, and land resources, linkages, and infrastructure.
Progress in development and deployment of the energy technologies described has tended to follow a pattern: potential constraints arise because of dependence on water and land resources, but then these constraints motivate advances in technology to reduced dependence or result in adjustments of societal priorities.
The primary limitation on confidence assigned to this key message is with respect to its generality and dependence on technological advances. In some situations, land and water constraints also pose challenges to technology options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, wind, natural gas, photovoltaic (solar electric), ­and even thermoelectric generation with dry cooling use less water. Energy system technologies vary widely in their carbon emissions and their use of water and land. For example, expansion of nuclear power and coal power with CCS are two measures that have been discussed as a potential part of a future decarbonized energy system.16,33,34 Both are also potentially water intensive and therefore have vulnerabilities related to climate impacts and competing water uses.
Where land and water resources are limited, bioenergy may therefore be at risk of competing with other uses of land and water, and climate changes present additional challenges.
However, other measures may have negative impacts on mitigation or adaptation potential in other sectors. Depending on the situation, the switch to natural gas in the energy sector can either improve or reduce adaptive capacity in the water sector. Increasing population and a growing economy intensify these interactions.1 Each sector is directly impacted by the others and by climate change, and each sector is a target for adaptation and mitigation efforts. The availability and use of energy, water, and land resources and the ways in which they interact vary across the nation. Climate-driven changes in land cover and land use are projected to further affect water quality and availability, increasing the competition for water needed for energy production.
The key messages were selected based on expert judgment, derived from the set of examples assembled to demonstrate the character and consequences of interactions among the energy, water, and land resource sectors. A synthesis of these examples provides insight into how climate change impacts the interactions between these sectors.
Climate change impacts will affect the interactions among sectors, but this may not occur in all circumstances. The degree of interactions among the energy, water, and land sectors varies regionally as does the character and intensity of climate change.
Private and public sector decision-makers must consider the impacts of strained water supplies on agricultural, ecological, industrial, urban, and public health needs. Heat, increased evaporation, drier soils, and lack of rain led to higher irrigation demands, which added stress on water resources required for energy production. For example, sustained droughts in the Northwest will affect how water managers release water from reservoirs, which in turn will affect water deliveries for ecosystem services, irrigation, recreation, and hydropower. Floodwaters surrounded the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska, shut down substations, and caused a wide range of energy, land, and water impacts (Ch. The mixes reflect competition for water and land resources, but more importantly for the purposes here, the mixes reflect linkages across the energy, water, and land sectors as well as linkages to climate. Energy technology development has the potential to reduce water and land requirements, and to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts. For example, with the Southwest having most of the potential for deployment of concentrating solar technologies, facilities will need to be extremely water-efficient in order to compete for limited water resources.

Challenges in siting land- and water-intensive energy facilities are likely to intensify over time as competition for these resources grows. As such, there are energy-water-land tradeoffs and synergies with respect to adaptation and mitigation. Alternatively, renewable generation and combined cycle gas and coal have relatively modest water withdrawals (see also EPRI 201135).
If such cross-sector impacts are not considered, they can diminish the effectiveness of climate mitigation and adaptation actions.
Natural gas can reduce water use for thermoelectric cooling (gas-fired plants require less cooling water), but natural gas extraction techniques consume water, so water availability must be considered. Better understanding of the connections between and among energy, water, and land systems can improve our capacity to predict, prepare for, and mitigate climate change. In turn, diminishing water quality and availability means that there will be a need for more energy to purify water and more infrastructure on land to store and distribute water. At the same time, low-flowing and warmer rivers threatened to suspend power plant production in several locations, reducing the options for dealing with the concurrent increase in electricity demand. Further complicating matters, hydropower is increasingly being used to balance variable wind generation in the Northwest, and seasonal hydroelectric restrictions have already created challenges to fulfilling this role.
For example, higher water withdrawal for thermoelectric power (power plants that use a steam cycle to generate electricity) generally reflects electric generation technology choices (often coal-, gas-, or nuclear-fired generation with open loop cooling) that assume the availability of large quantities of water. These technologies illustrate energy, water, and land linkages and other complexities for the design, planning, and deployment of our energy future.
It is difficult to forecast success in this regard for technologies such as CCS that are still in early phases of development. While wind farms avoid impacts on water resources, issues concerning land use, wildlife impacts, the environment, and aesthetics are often encountered. Considering the interactions among energy, water, and land systems presents opportunities for further identification and implementation of energy options that can reduce emissions, promote resilience, and improve sustainability. Each choice involves assessing the relative importance of the tradeoffs related to these resources in the context of both short- and long-term risks (see “Examples of Energy, Water, and Land Linkages” that describes four technologies that could play key roles). Overall, energy, water, and land sector vulnerabilities are important factors to weigh in considering alternative electricity generation options and cooling systems. In addition, gas production has the potential to affect land-based ecosystems by, for example, fragmenting habitat and inhibiting wildlife migration. In the Midwest, drought poses challenges to meeting electricity demands because diminished water availability and elevated water temperatures reduce the efficiency of electricity generation by thermoelectric power plants. Therefore, the choice of energy technology varies based on the available resources in a region. Raising crops to produce biofuels uses arable land and water that might otherwise be available for food production.
Figure 10.5 provides a systematic comparison of water withdrawals and consumptive use, illustrating the wide variation across both electric generation technologies and the accompanying cooling technologies. Future improvements in natural gas technologies and water reuse may reduce the possibility of negative impacts on water supplies and enhance the synergies across the energy, water, and land interface.
However, there are few analyses that capture the interactions among and competition for resources within these three sectors.1 Very little information is available to evaluate the implications for decision-making and planning, including legal, social, political, and other decisions. Decision-making processes for each sector also differ, and decisions often transcend scales, from local to state to federal, meaning that mitigation and adaptation options differ widely. Summer average temperatures were 5.2°F higher than normal, and precipitation was lower than previous records set in 1956. To protect water quality, federal and state regulations can require suspension of operations of thermoelectric power plants if water used to cool the power plants exceeds established temperature thresholds as it is returned to streams. Incorporating consideration of such cross-sector interactions in planning and policy could affect sectoral decisions and decisions related to climate mitigation and adaptation.
The potential growth in renewable energy may strengthen the linkage between energy and land (see “Examples of Energy, Water, and Land Linkages”). For example, while wind generation can require significant amounts of land, it can co-exist with other activities such as farming and grazing, while other technologies may not be compatible with other land uses.
For instance, climate change affects water supplies, energy demand, and land productivity, all of which can affect sector-wide decisions. Land and water influences on energy production capacity are expected to get stronger in the future, and greater resource scarcity will shape investment decisions.

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