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Title: Reduction in urban water use leads to less wastewater and fewer emissions:analysis of three representative U.S. cities

Electricity consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with wastewater flows from residential and commercial water use in three major cities of the United States are analyzed and compared for the period 2010–2018. Contributions of unit wastewater treatment processes and electricity sources to the overall emissions are considered. Tucson (Arizona), Denver (Colorado), and Washington, DC were chosen for their distinct locations, climatic conditions, raw water sources, wastewater treatment technologies, and electric power mixes. Denver experienced a 20% reduction in treated wastewater volumes per person despite a 16% increase in population. In Washington, DC, the reduction was 19%, corresponding to a 16% increase in population, and in Tucson 14% despite a population growth of 3%. The electricity intensity per volume of treated wastewater was higher in Tucson (1 kWh m−3) than in Washington, DC (0.7 kWh m−3) or Denver (0.5 kWh m−3). Tucson’s GHG emissions per person were about six times higher compared to Denver and four times higher compared to Washington, DC. Wastewater treatment facilities in Denver and Washington, DC generated a quarter to third of their electricity needs from onsite biogas and lowered their GHG emissions by offsetting purchases from the grid, including coal-generated electricity. The higher GHG more » emission intensity in Tucson is a reflection of coal majority in the electricity mix in the period, gradually replaced with natural gas, solar, and biogas. In 2018, the GHG reduction was 20% when the share of solar electricity increased to 14% from zero in 2016. In the analysis period, reduced wastewater volumes relative to the 2010 baseline saved Denver 44 000 MWh, Washington, DC 11 000 MWh and Tucson 7000 MWh of electricity. As a result, Washington, DC managed to forgo 21 000 metric tons of CO2-eqand Denver 34 000 metric tons, while Tucson’s cumulative emissions increased by 22 000 metric tons of CO2-eq. This study highlights the variability observed in water systems and the opportunities that exist with water savings to allow for wastewater generation reduction, recovering energy from onsite biogas, and using energy-efficient wastewater treatment technologies.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Environmental Research Letters
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Article No. 084024
IOP Publishing
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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