About 90 percent of U.S. electricity comes from thermoelectric power: turning water into steam by burning coal, natural gas, or oil, or using the heat from nuclear reactions.
Power plants use steam to turn turbines, but they can’t use all the heat they produce. They need a steady supply of water to keep from overheating.
Although they eventually return most of it to the watershed, it’s usually warmer than it started. The warm water can kill fish and other wildlife, and often contains pollutants.
The big problem: If a region is running short of water, the choice is water for drinking and growing food—or water for electricity.
So we need to move pretty quickly to ways of making electricity that don’t use steam to turn turbines. Wind turbines, for instance. Or photovoltaics.
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- : 16 astonishing, sobering, and hopeful water facts.