Topic: Hydropower

Overview

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.

Aquafornia news Downey Brand LLP - JDSupra

Blog: Court holds CEQA is not preempted in federal hydroelectric relicensing proceeding

In County of Butte v. Dep’t of Wat. Resources (2022) 13 Cal.5th 612, issued on August 1, 2022, the California Supreme Court carved out a role for the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) even where the project is largely governed by a federal proceeding. The case arose in connection with the relicensing of the Oroville Dam by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). The Federal Power Act (“FPA”) (16 U.S.C. § 791, et seq.) delegates to FERC the authority to license hydroelectric dams; the FPA has “a significant preemptive sweep.” Despite a comprehensive federal process for licensing dams, the Supreme Court held that state agency review under CEQA was not entirely preempted.

A Colorado River Veteran Moves Upstream and Plunges into The Drought-Stressed River’s Mounting Woes
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Chuck Cullom, a longtime Arizona water manager, brings a dual-basin perspective as top staffer at the Upper Colorado River Commission

Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. With 25 years of experience working on the Colorado River, Chuck Cullom is used to responding to myriad challenges that arise on the vital lifeline that seven states, more than two dozen tribes and the country of Mexico depend on for water. But this summer problems on the drought-stressed river are piling up at a dizzying pace: Reservoirs plummeting to record low levels, whether Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam can continue to release water and produce hydropower, unprecedented water cuts and predatory smallmouth bass threatening native fish species in the Grand Canyon. 

“Holy buckets, Batman!,” said Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “I mean, it’s just on and on and on.”

Aquafornia news E&E News

What the Western drought reveals about hydropower

The relentless Western drought that is threatening water supplies in the country’s largest reservoirs is exposing a reality that could portend a significant shift in electricity: Hydropower is not the reliable backbone it once was. Utilities and states are preparing for a world with less available water and turning more to wind and solar, demand response, energy storage and improved grid connections. That planning has helped Western states keep the lights on this summer even in severe drought conditions. Take California, which experienced record demand during a heat wave last week but did not have to impose any rolling blackouts. 

Aquafornia news Somach Simmons & Dunn

Blog: Ninth Circuit restricts irrigators’ rights to seek judicial review of Klamath Project operational decisions

On September 8, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) issued its decision in Klamath Irrigation District et al. v. United States et al., Case No. 20-36009, affirming the United States District Court for the District of Oregon’s dismissal of two actions filed by various Klamath Project (Project) irrigation parties challenging United States Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) operating procedures for the Project. In April 2019, Project irrigation parties, including the Klamath Irrigation District (KID) and a group that included the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) and several Project districts and individual farmers filed two complaints challenging Reclamation’s 2019-2024 operating plans or procedures for the Project in the District Court. 

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

As Lake Powell shrinks, new questions surface about its future

… Lake Mead’s own decline threatens to upend a vast irrigated agricultural empire in Southern California and southwestern Arizona, and to restrict or eventually cut off a significant source of hydroelectricity and household water for the urban Southwest. Powell once seemed Mead’s failsafe backup, a reservoir that, in a wet string of years, could accumulate far more than what the river delivers in a single year. During dry spells, it could pour its excess through Grand Canyon and into Mead, supplying users downstream. Now the excess was gone. … If the snows that melt to replenish the reservoir are lower than expected this winter, the dam’s managers warn, it’s possible that water will dip below Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower intakes by the end of 2023.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

CA still struggles to avoid blackouts as new heat wave arrives

Two years after the last rolling blackouts, with an intense heat wave starting to blanket the West, California’s electricity grid remains extremely vulnerable to power outages. The potential shortfall in power supplies is the result of climate-driven heat waves, drought-induced strains on hydro power and global supply-chain problems that are hindering the flow of new energy sources. Temperatures were expected to hit the high 90s Wednesday and soar to as high as 115 degrees Monday in parts of the Sacramento Valley, sending state officials scrambling to avoid a repeat of the rolling blackouts of 2020.

Aquafornia news Bloomberg

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California declares grid emergency, warning of blackouts

. . . The worst dry spell in 1,200 years has gripped nearly every inch of California with drought this summer, leaving rivers and reservoirs perilously low. That has significant implications for a state that generates about 10% of its electricity from hydroelectric dams and has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news NPR

Western drought raises risk of power blackouts

This is the Jim Bridger power plant, one of the largest coal-fired power sources in the nation and an enormous emitter of carbon dioxide pollution. … The plant sucks up about 16 million gallons of water each day, using it to power more than million homes across six western states, all the way to Oregon. But there’s a problem that looms for the coal plant operator and the customers that rely on it for electricity. This water is piped here from the Green River, a tributary of the rapidly shrinking Colorado River. Now, amidst a decades-long drought and a shortage of water downstream across the Southwest, future conservation in the basin could mean industrial users like Jim Bridger see their water shut off, says Wyoming State Engineer Brandon Gebhart.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Nevada Independent

‘We built a house of cards:’ Deal or not, Colorado River states stare down major cuts

Major Colorado River cuts must be made, one way or another. The only looming questions are when and on what terms, with negotiators scheduled to resume interstate meetings this week. The Colorado River remains in an unfolding and worsening crisis. Demand far exceeds supply. Long-term drought, worsened by climate change, has meant less water refilling the river’s large reservoirs as water users have continued to overtap them. … Although all seven states are expected to be at the meeting, the focus is likely to zero in on reaching a deal among the three states that comprise the Lower Colorado River Basin: Arizona, California and Nevada. 

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Northern California Public Media

Lake Pillsbury could be drained – advocates see it as indispensable

Another lawsuit was filed this week in the continuing saga of the Potter Valley Project, a hydroelectric plant affecting the Russian and Eel Rivers.   PG&E is in the early stages of surrendering control of the Project – a pair of dams, a diversion tunnel, and a hydro-electric station along the Eel River – and some groups are hoping the surrender will result in California’s next dam removal project.

Aquafornia news The Mendocino Voice

Fishing and conservation groups sue FERC over “fish-killing” Potter Valley Project

A coalition of five conservation and fishing groups has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in federal court over alleged Endangered Species Act (ESA) violations in operating the Potter Valley Project. The hydropower project diverting flows from the Eel River to the Russian River is set to be decommissioned, and FERC recently approved Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)’s proposed 30-month timeline for creating its final decommissioning plan. On Aug. 15, Friends of the Eel River, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources sued FERC in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to modify the Annual License FERC recently issued for the Potter Valley Project, in order to comply with the ESA. 

Aquafornia news Vox

Drought 2022: The Western megadrought is hurting energy production

It takes a lot of water to make power. From spinning turbines to hydraulic fracturing to refining fuel, the flow of water is critical to the flow of electrons and heat. About 40 percent of water withdrawals — water taken out of groundwater or surface sources — in the United States go toward energy production. The large majority of that share is used to cool power plants. In turn, it requires energy to extract, purify, transport, and deliver water. So when temperatures rise and water levels drop, the energy sector gets squeezed hard. The consequences of water shortages are playing out now in swaths of the American West, where an expansive, decades-long drought is forcing drastic cuts in hydroelectric power generation.

Related article: 

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Colorado River Basin Map By Douglas E. Beeman

As the Colorado River Shrinks, Can the Basin Find an Equitable Solution in Sharing the River’s Waters?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Drought and climate change are raising concerns that a century-old Compact that divided the river’s waters could force unwelcome cuts in use for the upper watershed

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, a key Colorado River reservoir that has seen its water level plummet after two decades of drought. Climate scientist Brad Udall calls himself the skunk in the room when it comes to the Colorado River. Armed with a deck of PowerPoint slides and charts that highlight the Colorado River’s worsening math, the Colorado State University scientist offers a grim assessment of the river’s future: Runoff from the river’s headwaters is declining, less water is flowing into Lake Powell – the key reservoir near the Arizona-Utah border – and at the same time, more water is being released from the reservoir than it can sustainably provide.

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2022
Field Trip - March 16-18

The lower Colorado River has virtually every drop 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, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139

Lower Colorado River Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - May 20

This event explored 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 was the focus of this tour. 

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

How Private Capital is Speeding up Sierra Nevada Forest Restoration in a Way that Benefits Water
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: A bond fund that fronts the money is expediting a headwaters restoration project to improve forest health, water quality and supply

District Ranger Lon Henderson with Tahoe National Forest points toward an overgrown section of forest within the Blue Forest project area. The majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada forest is awe-inspiring, but beneath the dazzling blue sky, there is a problem: A century of fire suppression and logging practices have left trees too close together. Millions of trees have died, stricken by drought and beetle infestation. Combined with a forest floor cluttered with dry brush and debris, it’s a wildfire waiting to happen.

Fires devastate the Sierra watersheds upon which millions of Californians depend — scorching the ground, unleashing a battering ram of debris and turning hillsides into gelatinous, stream-choking mudflows. 

With Drought Plan in Place, Colorado River Stakeholders Face Even Tougher Talks Ahead On The River’s Future
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Talks are about to begin on a potentially sweeping agreement that could reimagine how the Colorado River is managed

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.

Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2020
Field Trip - March 11-13

This tour explored 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. 

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Douglas E. Beeman

Women Leading in Water, Colorado River Drought and Promising Solutions — Western Water Year in Review

Dear Western Water readers:

Women named in the last year to water leadership roles (clockwise, from top left): Karla Nemeth, director, California Department of Water Resources; Gloria Gray,  chair, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Brenda Burman, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner; Jayne Harkins,  commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. and Mexico; Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission.The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.

These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.

We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Gary Pitzer

New Leader Takes Over as the Upper Colorado River Commission Grapples With Less Water and a Drier Climate
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River CommissionAmy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.

Tour

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

We explored 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 was the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
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 Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

This three-day, two-night tour explored 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. 

Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
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. 

Aquapedia background

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam

The construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964 created Lake Powell. Both are located in north-central Arizona near the Utah border. Lake Powell acts as a holding tank for outflow from the Colorado River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The water stored in Lake Powell is used for recreation, power generation and delivering water to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. 

Publication

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.

Video

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.

Video

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. 

Video

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 Bundle

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 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.

Publication

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.

Publication

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.

Dams

Folsom Dam on the American River east of Sacramento

Dams have allowed Californians and others across the West to harness and control water dating back to pre-European settlement days when Native Americans had erected simple dams for catching salmon.

Aquapedia background California Water Map

Hydroelectric Power

William R. Gianelli Powerplant at San Luis Reservoir. Hydroelectric power is produced when water released from a reservoir turns a turbine connected to a generator.  Gravity causes water to drop toward a turbine propeller. The falling water then turns the turbine, which produces power through the connected generator.

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 Dams Shasta Dam

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 storage capacity of the federal Central Valley Project 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 PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

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

Introduction

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.