Hydropower

HooverIMAGE2_590
Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation

Hydropower facilities in the United States can generate enough power to supply one-quarter of all households--28 million of them--with electricity. This is the equivalent of nearly 500 million barrels of oil or 100 average-sized coal power plants. But as climate change dries some of the country's water sources and shifts run off patterns, the traditional way of predicting stream flow, designing dams, and consuming electricity no longer applies.

Studies indicate that the current drying trend in the Southwest will continue. For instance, Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., has a 50 percent chance of dropping too low for power generation by 2017 and a 50 percent chance of going completely dry by 2021, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. And the Colorado River Compact currently calls for 16.5 million acre-feet (MAF) of water per year to be allocated between the United States and Mexico, while the actual average river flow is most likely between 14 and 15 MAF. The end result is that millions of Americans could be thrown into energy uncertainty if water allocations to the basin states don’t reflect lower flows.

Feature Stories

Low Water May Halt Hoover Dam’s Power

What happens if Lake Mead drops too low to generate electricity at Hoover Dam?

Where Energy Development Puts Rivers at Risk

American Rivers’ annual tally of threatened rivers highlights effects of drilling for natural gas.

California Report: In Dry Times, Deep Reservoir of Water Solutions

New report highlights possible solutions to state’s water shortages

Multi-Media

Infographic: Hoover Dam’s Troubled Waters

Completed in 1935, Hoover Dam supplies electricity to 29 million people in Arizona, California and Nevada.

Hydropower Stories

James Workman: Poetry, Slammed — Dambusting Celebratory Removals

The most dramatic freshwater news stories of 2011 literally broke wide open in the Pacific Northwest’s hydropowered region, as two major Washington currents were unplugged in in order to replenish an endangered, iconic, transrational species of fish. In that same spirit of silent wonder, and agape, the following 318 words began to arrange and then unglue themselves to honor these inspired, extraordinary events.

North vs. South—Carolina States Settle Water Dispute Without Supreme Court

A negotiated agreement ends a three-year conflict between North Carolina and South Carolina over the Catawba and Yadkin rivers.

Peter Gleick: Improving Water Infrastructure with Dam Building, but for Whose Benefit?

Whether, where, and how to build new dams: the old Western debate.

Dams Demolished, Rivers Revived

Dam decommissioning accelerates in the Pacific Northwest.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia: A Tri-State Tug-of-War for Lake Lanier

Congress solidifies a federal judge’s ruling to settle a 20-year-old dispute.

North vs. South: Carolinas in Supreme Court Battle for Catawba River

The Catawba River is used by more than 30 cities and 17 counties for industry and drinking.

Peter Gleick: Temperance Flat Reservoir Falls Flat

Rigged feasibility study shows desperation for new surface reservoirs.

Peter Gleick: The Number of New Dams Built in California is Not Zero

Californians love (or hate) to fight about water in part because there are no easy solutions left.

New Legislation to Restore Watersheds & Wilderness in American West

Protection for 2.1 million acres of land and 1,000 miles of rivers.

Dry Reservoir Leaves Tampa One Day of Water

A stagnant layer of unpotable water is all that remains of Tampa’s Bill Young Reservoir.

Read more Hydropower Archives

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