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"Water and electricity don't mix!" As wise as that admonition is from a safety perspective, here's the twist: Not only do they mix, but here in California we wouldn't have one without the other. Here's why.

Water Needs Power 

Without electricity, water would not come out of your faucet.

No matter where you live, you need electricity to heat water, and it also takes energy to clean it, both before and after you use it. 

But if you live in the western U.S., chances are your water comes from hundreds of miles away. 

Three-quarters of the water in California comes from the northern third of the state. But most of the people live in the dry southern two-thirds of the state. 

So the water has to travel from far away.

Snow that falls in the Sierra Nevada melts into rivers and streams. 

Reservoirs collect the water. 

The water eventually flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

The water would naturally flow through San Francisco Bay out to the ocean. 

But in some years as much as 50 percent of the water takes a detour.

Huge electric pumps in the Delta move millions of gallons of water a minute, to make it go where it does not naturally flow. 

Hundreds of miles later, it runs into the Tehachapi Mountains

To get to the millions of people in Southern California, the water has to climb the mountains, 1,926 feet uphill. 

When it is running at full power, the Edmonston Pumping Plant shoots almost two million gallons of water a minute over the Tehachapis. 

That is as much water as about 220 large tank trucks could carry.

The pumps use more than four billion kilowatt hours of energy, about the same amount it takes to power the city of Los Angeles for two months. 

The water is distributed to millions of people living in LA and neighboring cities. 

But even if your water does not have to travel over a mountain, it still needs electricity for heating and treatment. In California, 19 percent of the electricity goes to water-related uses. 

Climate change threatens to make water scarcer, while population growth means increased demand. There will be more pressure not only on water, but also on energy.

And that's not all ...

Illustration by Andy Warner

Written by Molly Samuel and Lauren Sommer. Research by Don Clyde and Lisa Pickoff-White.


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Water and Power was produced by Climate Watch, KQED's initiative covering climate science and policy issues, with a specific focus on California.