Holcomb, Kansas Coal Plant Water Usage in Perspective

An argument opponents of the proposed Holcomb Station coal-fired electricity generation plant make is that its water usage is excessive and will lead to, depending on who is speaking, little water left for other uses. Even drinking water, according to some critics, could be threatened.

Together, the proposed plants will use 16,000 acre-feet of water — about 5.2 billion gallons – annually. While that seems like a tremendous amount of water, especially in dry western Kansas, we should put that water usage in context before making judgments.

According to the Kansas Water Office, in 2006, 3,496,586 acre-feet of water was used to irrigate 3,066,602 acres, a rate of 1.14 acre-feet of water per acre. In Finney county, where the Holcomb plant is located, water use for irrigation is a little higher. The average usage for 2002 to 2006 was 1.31 acre-feet per acre.

Using the Finney county rates, we find that the 16,000 acre-feet of water usage by the proposed power plants is enough to irrigate 12,215 acres of crops.

While 12,215 acres of crops may seem like a lot, Finney county alone had 227,297 acres under irrigation in 2006. So the water usage by the proposed plants amounts to 5.4% of just Finney county’s water use for irrigation. For the entire state of Kansas, it’s less than one-half of one percent of the water used for irrigation.

So while 5.2 billion gallons of water seems like a lot, it’s not much more than a few drops in the bucket, figuratively speaking, of water use for irrigation in Kansas. The economic value of the electricity the Holcomb plant expansion will generate, however, is large.

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