Topic: Hydropower



Hydroelectric power is generated by the ability to turn falling water into electricity and in California accounts for about 15 percent of the state’s power supply annually.

Western Water Magazine

The Colorado River: Living with Risk, Avoiding Curtailment
Fall 2017

This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water managers and others are trying to face the future. 

Tour Dan Scott

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018
Field Trip - April 11-13

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

Explore the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Tour Dan Scott

Northern California Tour 2018
Field Trip - October 10 - 12

Explore the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as we learn about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply. All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. This year, special attention will be paid to the flood event at Oroville Dam and the efforts to repair the dam spillway before the next rainy season. 

This 3-day, 2-night tour travels across the Sacramento Valley and follows the river north from Sacramento through Chico to Redding and Lake Shasta, where participants take a houseboat ride.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Thursday’s Top of the Scroll: House approves bill to expand hydropower

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, would define hydropower as a renewable energy source and streamline the way projects are licensed, with primary authority granted to a single federal agency. Lawmakers approved the bill Wednesday, 257-166.

Aquafornia news Water Deeply

Why hydroelectric utilities are endangered by soaring solar and wind

The success of solar and wind energy in California is having a surprising side effect: It may be undercutting revenue for hydroelectric dams, the longtime stalwart of “green” energy in the West. Four years ago, officials at the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages electricity demand across the state, identified a phenomenon called the “duck curve.”

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

A decades-long public land battle continues in the California desert

Now, a private company wants to use the pits for a $2-billion hydropower project. The plant, proponents say, would help boost renewable energy use in Southern California and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But park officials fear the hydropower project could draw down local groundwater levels and harm wildlife.

Aquafornia news The San Diego Union-Tribune

Pump it up: Water officials looking for offers to build a hydro storage plant at San Vicente Reservoir

The San Diego County Water Authority wants to find somebody to develop an energy storage facility at the San Vicente Reservoir, nestled among the Cuyamaca Mountains near Lakeside. And officials are not only confident they can find a number of potential candidates willing to fully develop the project, they expect to entertain proposals in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

After 10 years of delays on dam relicensing, these groups want more time

More groups have signed on to an effort to delay the relicensing of the Oroville Dam project. … The office of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, has also issued a letter requesting a delay.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

LaMalfa seeks delay of new license for Oroville Dam

Congressman Doug LaMalfa doesn’t want a new license issued for Oroville Dam until some safety questions are answered and some commitments are made to local government. LaMalfa, R-Richvale, sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur requesting the delay.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Renewable sources of electricity outpace nuclear plants

The growth in renewables has been fueled by scores of new wind turbines and solar farms. Recent increases in hydroelectric power as a result of heavy snow and rain in Western states last winter also provided a boost.

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Wednesday’s Top of the Scroll: California and Canada are teaming up to fight climate change — again

As President Donald Trump dithers on the fate of the Paris climate deal, California and other western states are banding together to reduce carbon emissions and save hundreds of millions of dollars — and now a Canadian province will join them. … BC Hydro operates 31 hydroelectric power plants, which could help California and other western states bring more solar and wind power online.

Aquafornia news San Jose Mercury News

New study: California drought boosted electricity bills, smog

California’s brutal five-year drought did more than lead to water shortages and dead lawns. It increased electricity bills statewide by $2.45 billion and boosted levels of smog and greenhouse gases, according to a new study released Wednesday.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

California drought raised electric rates as hydro power dried up

Californians’ electricity costs jumped by a combined $2.45 billion from 2012 to 2016 because of severe shortages of cheap hydroelectricity, according to an estimate released Wednesday by the Pacific Institute, an Oakland water policy think tank.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Monday’s Top of the Scroll: What went wrong at Oroville Dam? Congressional Democrats demand answers

Citing the near disaster at Oroville Dam, a group of congressional Democrats is pushing the government’s watchdog agency to investigate federal oversight of dam safety regulations. … Separately, the California state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee will hold an oversight hearing on Oroville next Tuesday [April 25].

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Hydropower plant next to Joshua Tree wouldn’t hurt environment, Interior Department says

Federal officials have concluded that infrastructure for a proposed hydropower project — which would tap billions of gallons of groundwater in the California desert, just outside Joshua Tree National Park — wouldn’t be especially harmful to the environment.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

More delays for Oroville Dam relicensing; appointments needed from Trump

What’s new with the relicensing of Oroville Dam now that parts of the dam, mainly the main spillway, look a lot different? More waiting.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Surge of hydropower could force cutbacks of solar, wind

An abundance of rain and snowfall this winter has teed up what’s expected to be a bountiful year for hydroelectricity production in California, as reservoirs recover from five years of drought.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

How hydroelectric power has roared back in California

After slowing to a trickle during the past five years of punishing drought, hydroelectric power in California is poised to make a major comeback this spring and summer, thanks to the wet winter. Across Northern California, hydroelectricity producers say their reservoirs are brimming at levels not seen in decades.

Aquafornia news San Diego Union-Tribune

Hydropower poised for comeback in California, thanks to a wet winter

California’s years-long drought put hydroelectric power flat on its back. But one of the cleanest and cheapest energy sources may be poised for a comeback as the state has been drenched with rain and its mountains blanketed in snow in recent months.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Tuesday’s Top of the Scroll: Water flowing through Oroville Dam powerhouse again

As of deadline Monday, water was running again through the Hyatt Powerhouse beneath Oroville Dam.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

‘Spoil sites’ for Oroville Dam spillway debris, Hyatt Powerplant starting up soon

There are 1.7 million cubic yards of rubble at the bottom of the Diversion Pool, effectively splitting it into two bodies of water. The plan with the spillway shut off, according to the California Department of Water Resources, is to remove enough of it to clear a channel and get the water that is backed up on one side of the rubble to flow between the two sides.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Oroville Dam: Power plant may be operational Friday

In a development that would ease pressure on Oroville Dam’s badly damaged concrete spillway, state officials say the dam’s power plant may be operational by midday Friday.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Tuesday’s Top of the Scroll: Giant chasm revealed as water stops flowing at Oroville Dam

[Oroville] Dam operators gradually scaled back water releases to zero over a six-hour period, providing breathing room for construction crews trying to clear debris from a badly choked Feather River channel and restart the dam’s critically needed hydroelectric plant.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Oroville Dam’s outflow to be stopped to clear debris

California water authorities will stop the outflow from the Oroville Dam’s crippled spillway to allow workers to remove debris blocking a hydroelectric plant from working, officials said Sunday.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Water releases from Oroville Dam’s banged up spillway to stop

Oroville Dam operators plan to halt water releases from the dam’s battered spillway Monday in order to ramp up efforts to remove a debris pile that’s preventing them from restarting a hydroelectric plant.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Oroville Dam spillway releases being reduced

Water releases through the damaged main spillway at Oroville Dam were scaled back Thursday to allow crews to reach and remove a pile of debris that has built up at the bottom of that chute, officials said.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Oroville Dam: ‘The threat level – it is much, much, much lower’

Feeling confident they’ve created sufficient empty space in Lake Oroville for the time being, state Department of Water Resources officials said they reduced spillway outflows so they could address another looming challenge: restarting the dam’s hydroelectric plant, which can release additional water when operational.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Spillway repairs not only project underway at Oroville Dam

Although stabilizing the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam has been the first priority of the Department of Water Resources, several other initiatives are underway.

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Threatened salmon a concern as PG&E plans to pull plug on Butte Creek hydro project

Operating the hydroelectric plants on Butte Creek just isn’t worth it to PG&E anymore, and that’s a potential threat to a rare strain of salmon.

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Eagle Mountain hydropower gets boost from NextEra

NextEra Energy Resources is working to build a massive hydropower plant just outside Joshua Tree National Park, bringing the weight of one of the country’s biggest renewable energy companies to a controversial project that critics say would harm wildlife and diminish an underground water supply critical to the park.

Aquafornia news Appeal-Democrat

Yuba County Water Agency intervenes in Friends of the River lawsuit

Warning its Yuba River operations are at risk, the Yuba County Water Agency has intervened in a lawsuit filed by Friends of the River against the federal government.

Aquafornia news McClatchy Washington, D.C., Bureau

Klamath River dam removals in California presented to federal agency

Three Northern California dams and one in Oregon would eventually fall, under a proposal floated Friday to a federal agency.

Aquapedia background

Whiskeytown Lake

Photo Credit: Jenn Bowles, Executive Director

Whiskeytown Lake, a major reservoir in the foothills of the Klamath Mountains nine miles west of Redding, was built at the site of one of Shasta County’s first Gold Rush communities. Whiskeytown, originally called Whiskey Creek Diggings, was founded in 1849 and named in reference to a whiskey barrel rolling off a citizen’s pack mule; it may also refer to miners drinking a barrel per day. 

Aquapedia background

All-American Canal

As one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, the Imperial Valley receives its water from the Colorado River via the All-American Canal. Rainfall is scarce in the desert region at less than three inches per year and groundwater is of little value. 

Aquafornia news Circle of Blue

U.S. hydropower grows by going small

Hydropower in the United States is primed for a shakeup. On one hand, utilities and governments are tearing down old dams with increasing frequency. … On the other hand, lawmakers and officials are keen to wring more power from rivers.

Aquafornia news Circle of Blue

Popularity of big hydropower projects diminishes around the world

Earlier this year, in an announcement that has become more routine around the world, Suy Sem, Cambodia’s minister of mines and energy, declared a moratorium on the construction of big hydropower dams until at least 2020. … Cambodia joins a lengthening list of nations around the world that are reassessing big hydropower dams in an era when wind and solar power are less expensive, much easier to build, less damaging, and far less vulnerable to droughts and floods.

Aquafornia news KQED

Easing drought boosts California hydropower, for now

The easing of California’s drought has boosted the state’s early spring hydropower generation to its highest level since 2011, helping it to recover from a 15-year low reached last year.

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Joshua Tree can’t stop Eagle Mountain hydropower plant

Joshua Tree National Park is working to annex more than 25,000 acres of important wildlife habitat to protect it from potential development, even as it appears increasingly likely those lands will surround a massive hydropower plant.

Aquafornia news McClatchy Washington, D.C., Bureau

Thursday’s Top of the Scroll: Hydroelectric power officials bemoan federal regulations

Federal burdens dampen California’s hydroelectric power potential, PG&E and Turlock Irrigation District officials told lawmakers Tuesday. … In 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law two bills intended to streamline the approval process for small hydroelectric projects.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Officials sign unusual pact to tear down Klamath River hydroelectric dams

Endangered salmon blocked for nearly a century from hundreds of miles of the Klamath River in Oregon and California are expected to return en masse under unusual agreements signed Wednesday to tear down four hydroelectric dams.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

California’s drought adds $2 billion in electricity costs

It’s one of the lesser-known costs of California’s drought: the drying-up of the state’s normally abundant cheap hydroelectric power.

Aquafornia news Redding Record Searchlight

Deal struck on Klamath Dam removal

Federal and state officials, along with the owner of four dams on the Klamath River, have agreed to move forward with a plan to remove the dams.

Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

Klamath River dam removal efforts renewed in agreement

On Tuesday, federal and state agencies announced a Plan B approach that seeks to remove four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River after similar efforts failed to pass through Congress last year.

Aquafornia news Merced Sun-Star

Feds ease water requirements for Merced County farmers in dam relicensing

Farmers depending on irrigation water from the Merced Irrigation District heard better-than-expected news Thursday about the future of their water supplies.

Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

Water board to hold meetings on Klamath dam relicensing

… Humboldt County residents will have two opportunities to voice their views and hear information on the relicensing of four PacifiCorp hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River once slated for removal by the Klamath Basin agreements.

Aquafornia news Riverside Press-Enterprise

Joshua Tree: Plan aims to turn desert water to electricity

A defunct iron ore mine near Joshua Tree National Park, a site once considered for the world’s largest landfill, has sold for $25 million to a company that wants to develop a hydroelectric project there.

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Eagle Mountain hydropower plant near Joshua Tree takes big step forward

A controversial proposal to build a hydropower plant in the shadow of Joshua Tree National Park cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, in a surprising development that frustrated conservationists but encouraged some renewable energy advocates.

Aquafornia news The Modesto Bee

Fish might get help past dams along Tuolumne River

Salmon leap over rocks and other small obstacles as they swim up the Tuolumne River to spawn every fall. But they cannot surmount the 110-foot-tall dam that created La Grange Reservoir, much less the 585-foot dam just upstream at Don Pedro Reservoir. 

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

California’s hydro power dries up as drought worsens; utility customers paying more

The drought is drying up California’s once-plentiful supply of cheap hydroelectricity, and utility customers are paying for it.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

California first to feel hydropower crunch of drought

Flying over the Sierra Nevada as California entered its fourth year of drought, the state’s energy chief looked down and saw stark bare granite cloaked in dirty brown haze – not the usual pristine white peaks heaped with snow that would run the state’s hydroelectric dams for the year.

Aquafornia news Capital Public Radio

Study: California drought decreases hydropower, increases greenhouse gas emissions (with audio)

The Pacific Institute says there is less hydroelectricity and more expensive electricity, due to the diminished river flows as a result of the California drought.

Aquafornia news Appeal-Democrat

Action aplenty for Yuba County Water Agency

Two major developments in the [Yuba County Water] agency’s history were coming to a head — the application for a new license that will determine how the water project is run for the next 50 years and the takeover of the operation of the project’s hydropower plant.

Aquafornia news The Modesto Bee

Public can comment on La Grange Dam studies

The public will get another chance Monday to weigh in on La Grange Dam, erected on the Tuolumne River decades before the far larger Don Pedro Reservoir came along.


Looking to the Source: Watersheds of the Sierra Nevada
Published 2011

This 28-page report describes the watersheds of the Sierra Nevada region and details their importance to California’s overall water picture. It describes the region’s issues and challenges, including healthy forests, catastrophic fire, recreational impacts, climate change, development and land use.

The report also discusses the importance of protecting and restoring watersheds in order to retain water quality and enhance quantity. Examples and case studies are included.


Restoring a River: Voices of the San Joaquin

This 30-minute documentary-style DVD on the history and current state of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program includes an overview of the geography and history of the river, historical and current water delivery and uses, the genesis and timeline of the 1988 lawsuit, how the settlement was reached and what was agreed to.


Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (60-minute DVD)

Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from, how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress Wendie Malick. 


Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (30-minute DVD)

A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to households throughout the state.

Maps & Posters

Klamath River Watershed Map
Published 2011

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The map text explains the many issues facing this vast, 15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration; agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement, and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Maps & Posters

Truckee River Basin Map
Published 2005

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Truckee River Basin, including the Newlands Project, Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe. Map text explains the issues surrounding the use of the Truckee-Carson rivers, Lake Tahoe water quality improvement efforts, fishery restoration and the effort to reach compromise solutions to many of these issues. 

Maps & Posters

Colorado River Basin Map
Redesigned in 2017

Redesigned in 2017, this beautiful map depicts the seven Western states that share the Colorado River with Mexico. The Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people and in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the country of Mexico. Text on this beautiful, 24×36-inch map, which is suitable for framing, explains the river’s apportionment, history and the need to adapt its management for urban growth and expected climate change impacts.


Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project provides an overview of the California-funded and constructed State Water Project.


Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water
Published 2006

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water provides an overview of the history of water development and use in Nevada. It includes sections on Nevada’s water rights laws, the history of the Truckee and Carson rivers, water supplies for the Las Vegas area, groundwater, water quality, environmental issues and today’s water supply challenges.

Aquapedia background


Dams have allowed Californians and the West to harness and control water dating back to the days of Native Americans. At that time, Native Americans erected simple dams for catching salmon.

Today, California and neighboring states are home to a vast integrated system of federal, state and locally owned dams that help with flood management, water storage and water transport.

Flood management projects, for example, have prevented billions of dollars’ worth of damage and countless lives lost.

Aquapedia background

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power is generated by the ability to turn falling water into electricity and in California accounts for about 15 percent of the state’s power supply annually.

Hydroelectric power is produced when water turns a turbine connected to a generator. This water is stored behind a dam at elevation. Gravity causes water to drop toward a turbine propeller. The falling water turns the turbine which produces power through the connected generator.

Benefits of hydroelectric power include:

Aquapedia background

Hydroelectric Projects in California

 Hydroelectric Projects in California

Hydroelectric Power and the State Water Project

In California, the State Water Project provides water for 25 million Californians and irrigation water for an estimated 750,000 acres of farmland. Along the way, it supports industries from agriculture to high tech that make the state a global economic powerhouse.

Aquapedia background

Yuba Accord and Yuba River

The Yuba Accord is a landmark agreement that balances the interests of environmental groups, agriculture, water agencies and hydroelectric operators relying on water from the Yuba River.  A tributary of the Feather River, the Yuba is located north of Sacramento.

Pieced together after two decades of lawsuits, the Yuba Accord allows for fresh water flows to support native fish while also providing water for hydropower, transfers and irrigation. The Accord took effect in 2008 after two years as a pilot project.

Aquapedia background

Trinity Dam and Trinity River

Though seemingly a long-way from California’s Central Valley, the Trinity Dam helps supply irrigation water for Valley farmers and for hydropower production.

Constructed in the far northwest of California in the 1950s, Trinity Dam and Lewiston Dam, just downstream, increased the federal Central Valley Project’s storage capacity by more than 2.5 million acre-feet.

Western Water Magazine

Making the Connection: The Water/Energy Nexus
September/October 2010

This printed issue of Western Water looks at the energy requirements associated with water use and the means by which state and local agencies are working to increase their knowledge and improve the management of both resources.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt Sudman

The Colorado River: Building a Sustainable Future
November/December 2009

Diverting water for farms and cities, generating hydro-electric power, supplying an ever-growing urban population and protecting endangered species have all shaped the development and management of the Colorado River we know today. How to sustain the system and build a resilient future for what is known as the “lifeline of the Southwest” is the task facing the region and the river’s multiple users.

Western Water Magazine

Turning Water into Power: Hydropower Projects Under Review
September/October 2005

Hydropower generation is prevalent in the West, where rapidly flowing river systems have been tapped for generations to produce electricity. Hydropower is a clean, steady and reliable energy source, but the damming of rivers has exacted a toll on the environment, affecting, among other things, the migration of fish to vestigial spawning grounds. Many of those projects are due to be relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Western Water Excerpt Gary Pitzer Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Turning Water into Power: Hydropower Projects Under Review
September/October 2005


The vital importance of water in the West is a given. It is the basis upon which everything moves forward – the burgeoning subdivisions, the seemingly limitless acreage of fruits and vegetables and the remaining stretches of wilderness that support fish, fowl and wildlife. In addition to its life-sustaining properties, water, more specifically the force of moving water, plays a significant part of the nation’s power system by providing an inexpensive, reliable and renewable generation source.

Western Water Excerpt S. Joshua NewcomRita Schmidt Sudman

Shedding Light on the Link Between Water and Power in California
Sept/Oct 2001

Those on the California water insider track know all too well the fine line the state walks with regard to maintaining its water supply. Hydrologic conditions put California at the mercy of the weather and some are predicting this year could be the start of a dry cycle not just for the state, but the Southwest as a whole. Combine that with a regional dry spell in the Northwest and California’s power woes, and a potential recipe for disaster begins to solidify.