Federal Water Tap, May 4: U.S. Hydropower Capacity Increases

The Rundown

State Department makes climate change a top diplomatic priority. The Energy Department crunches the numbers on U.S. hydropower while a coal power plant sees new life. A new plan for California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is announced. President Obama threatens to veto a water spending bill.

“In recent years, extremist environmental groups have increased efforts to dismantle and remove federal dams. These efforts defy common sense, particularly at a time of major water challenges across the West and with an increasing need for clean, renewable hydropower.” – Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) on his amendment to block spending to remove dams owned or operated by the federal government.

By the Numbers

5,000 to 7,000 acre-feet: Reduction in water consumption by shutting down three of the five electricity generating units at Four Corners power plant, on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. The three units closed at the end of 2013. (Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement)

Reports and Studies

Diplomacy and Water: The State Department’s big report on its international development and diplomacy goals has a lot to say about climate change, but little direct reference to water.

The second edition of the report, prepared every four years, repeats the Defense Department’s assertion that climate change could lead to conflicts over water and food. Climate change is one of four strategic priorities for the State Department. The others are preventing violent extremism, fostering broad economic growth, and promoting open, democratic societies.

Hydropower Increase
The United States is adding hydropower capacity by targeting existing dams and canals, according to a Department of Energy report. Net generating capacity grew by 1.48 gigawatts from 2005 to 2013, an increase in total capacity by just under 2 percent. Some 86 percent of the growth occurred at existing facilities.

Average output compared to capacity at the nation’s largest dams – those built before 1970 – is showing a long-term decline. Among the reason, according to the report: aging and inefficient equipment, constraints on releasing water due to environmental concerns, climate change reductions in water availability, and a reordering of hydropower in the pecking order for dams that serve multiple purposes.

Four Corners Power Plant
One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the Southwest will continue operating through 2041, according to a final environmental review by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The review paves the way for a new surface coal mine on Navajo Nation land to serve the Four Corners power plant. The review also reauthorizes an existing mine as well as right-of-way permits for transmission lines. Read the executive summary here.

News Briefs

California Bay-Delta
State and federal officials announced a new plan that divides the $US 25 billion overhaul of California’s hydrologic choke point into two efforts.

California WaterFix focuses on a pair of 40-ft wide, 35-mile long tunnels to move water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

California EcoRestore, the restoration program, will target 30,000 acres of wetlands and floodplains over five years. The previous version set a 150,000-acre goal over 50 years.

Water Bill Veto Threat
The White House threatened to veto a $US 35 billion water and energy spending bill that passed the House on Friday, saying that the measure underfunds renewable energy and allocates too much money to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Obama administration also objects to a policy rider that prohibits the Army Corps from working on a rule to clarify which bodies of water are regulated by the Clean Water Act.

Keep the Dams
An amendment to the spending bill that prevents funds from being used to remove any dam owned or operated by the federal government passed. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

Klamath River Deal
Oregon senators are working on a land deal in the Klamath River Basin that, they say, will help hold together a water deal under negotiation for more than a decade.

Staff for Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden told the Oregonian that they are investigating how to turn portions of the Fremont-Winema National Forest over to the Klamath Indian Reservation, whose leaders say that the land is essential for the water-sharing agreement to proceed.

Dam Repairs in Utah
The Natural Resources Conservation Service will help pay for repairs to a water diversion on the Green River in Utah. The diversion, a low barrier across the river that funnels water to irrigation canals, hydropower facilities, and a town, was damaged by a 2011 flood. NRCS will pay up to 75 percent of the $US 6.7 million construction cost.

On the Radar

Toxic Algae Meeting
On May 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss what information the agency should provide to states on the toxins produced by blue-green called. The meeting will be broadcast over the Internet. Register by May 8.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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