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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.