Food, Water and Energy: Know the Nexus

Food, water and energy systems are inextricably linked, and as recent events like droughts, oil spills and increasing food prices make clear, the United States can no longer view these systems in isolation. Our new paper, Food, Water and Energy: Know the Nexus, explains that when the food, water and energy nexus becomes unbalanced, there are clear consequences for public health, our economy and the environment (See our Press Release from January 14, 2013). The paper describes how and where these systems intersect, how they rely upon each other to function and how they can have a significant impact on each other.

For example:

  • Nearly half of all water withdrawals – both freshwater and ocean water – in the US are used for cooling at thermoelectric power plants.
  • Water-related energy use in California consumes approximately 20 percent of the state's electricity.
  • 25 percent of all freshwater consumed in the US is associated with discarded food; about as much as the volume of Lake Erie.
  • In 2010 nearly 40 percent of US corn was converted into ethanol.  

“Know  the Nexus” provides three case studies that illustrate these interdependencies:

  • Food Waste in the US: Discarding food means squandering the water and energy required to grow crops and raise livestock.
  • Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: The competing demands for food, water and energy are growing, and the complex mix of agencies and regulations that govern them need to be better coordinated.
  • Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant: The current energy system is overly dependent upon water resources and vulnerable to extreme weather shifts and climate change.

While the paper provides examples of individuals, businesses and local governments already benefiting from a “nexus approach,” the US government has largely ignored the nexus, as indicated by legislation and policies that rarely account for interconnections in any combination among food, water or energy. In areas such as hydraulic fracturing, the farm bill  G and energy subsidies, it is clear that the nation is not effectively monitoring the condition or coordinating the management of food, water and energy systems.

“Know the Nexus” urges individuals, businesses and government to take a nexus approach, which requires a strong understanding of the relationships among these three systems. As the paper concludes, the US needs policies that address the complexity of the nexus at all levels of government, factoring in unique regional characteristics in order to ensure food, water and energy security for an ever-growing population.

See our Press Release from January 14, 2013.