Embedded resource accounting for coupled natural-human systems: An application to water resource impacts of the western U.S. electrical energy trade

Benjamin L. Ruddell, Elizabeth A. Adams, Richard Rushforth, Vincent C. Tidwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

In complex coupled natural-human systems (CNH), multitype networks link social, environmental, and economic systems with flows of matter, energy, information, and value. Embedded Resource Accounting (ERA) is a systems analysis framework that includes the indirect connections of a multitype CNH network. ERA is conditioned on perceived system boundaries, which may vary according to the accountant's point of view. Both direct and indirect impacts are implicit whenever two subnetworks interact in such a system; the ratio of two subnetworks' impacts is the embedded intensity. For trade in the services of water, this is understood as the indirect component of a water footprint, and as "virtual water" trade. ERA is a generalization of input-output, footprint, and substance flow methods, and is a type of life cycle analysis. This paper presents results for the water and electrical energy system in the western U.S. This system is dominated by California, which outsources the majority of its water footprint of electrical energy. Electricity trade increases total water consumption for electricity production in the western U.S. by 15% and shifts water use to water-stressed Colorado River Basin States. A systemic underaccounting for water footprints occurs because state-level processes discount a portion of the water footprint occurring outside of the state boundary. Key Points ERA adds point of view, multitype networks, and embedded intensity to LCA Embedded virtual water flows are from lower to higher water value intensity states Accountant's point of view may cause mismatch between assessed and physical realities

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7957-7972
Number of pages16
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume50
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Keywords

  • economics
  • networks
  • virtual water
  • water and energy
  • water resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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