Quantcast

California Drought Cuts Hydroelectric Generation in Half

Climate

The prolonged drought in California, now entering its fourth year, has altered the state's mix of energy generation sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That's mixed news for those pushing for more reliance on renewables and less on fossil fuels.

The water level in Shasta Lake, which feeds the Shasta Dam, is close to its second lowest ever. The lake provides power as well as water for agriculture in the Central Valley.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The EIA issued a report yesterday that showed that, with the state's reservoirs currently at 42 percent of their normal levels for this time of year, the ability of hydroelectric dams to produce power has been cut in half. The dams, which normally produce about 20 percent of the state's power, are now producing only 10 percent.

With hydro power production at a ten-year low, reliance on natural gas hit a ten-year high. That's not good news, since fracking for natural gas requires copious amounts of water and has stirred up opposition in the state. (While most fracking in California is for oil, it also sits on large natural gas reserves).

According to the EIA, "In California, natural gas-fired capacity is often used to help offset lower levels of generation from hydropower facilities. The chart below shows how this inverse relationship can work: when monthly hydropower generation dips under 10-year average levels, monthly natural gas generation often rises above its 10-year average in response. From January through June of 2014, natural gas generation in California was percent higher compared to the same period in 2013 and 16 percent higher compared to the January-June average from the previous 10 years."

Photo credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

But on the positive side, the EIA says, "Wind and solar generation are also playing an increasingly significant role in California's generation mix.

Wind-generated energy exceeded hydropower for the first time in February and March, producing 30 percent of the state's power.

While hydropower is often thought of as clean and renewable, the hydroelectric dams have been controversial among environmentalists and tribal groups for the way they impact the land and the distribution of water resources. For instance, the Shasta Dam, one of the country's largest, has stirred anger for the way it has changed the region's ecological footprint and buried tribal lands in order to provide hydroelectricity and water for agriculture in the Central Valley.

"As drought and climate change intensify, we need to focus on the best and highest use of our rivers," said Gary Wockner of the Save the Colorado River and Poudre Waterkeeper. "Wind and solar are the best ways to generate electricity, whereas hydro-electric dams destroy rivers and cause methane emissions that accelerate climate change. Our rivers and water should flow as fast and freely as possible and be used to sustainably quench the thirst of people, fish and wildlife so that all three can continue to thrive."

Currently almost 6o percent of California in under severe or extreme drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Fracking Makes California’s Drought Worse

California Experiencing Most Severe Drought Ever Recorded

The California Drought: Who Gets Water and Who's Hung Out to Dry?

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less

By Joe Vukovich

Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Emily Moran

If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."

Read More Show Less

By Catherine Davidson

Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.

Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.

Read More Show Less

The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington is looking to recruit 10,000 dogs to study for the next 10 years to see if they can improve the life expectancy of man's best friend and their quality of life, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less