Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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

Lit candles, flowers and signs are seen in front of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, Poland on May 31, 2020. Aleksander Kalka / NurPhoto / Getty Images

As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.

Read More Show Less
Sockeye salmon are seen swimming at a fish farm. Natalie Fobes / Getty Images

By Peter Beech

Using waste food to farm insects as fish food and high-tech real-time water quality monitoring: innovations that could help change global aquaculture, were showcased at the World Economic Forum's Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2020.

Read More Show Less
Shanika Reaux walks through the devastated Lower Ninth Ward on May 10, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana, after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mario Tama / Getty Images

The big three broadcast channels failed to cover the disproportionate impacts of extreme weather on low-income communities or communities of color during their primetime coverage of seven hurricanes and one tropical storm over three years, a Media Matters for America analysis revealed.

Read More Show Less
Several drugmakers and research institutions are working on vaccines, antivirals and other treatments to help people infected with COVID-19. krisanapong detraphiphat / Moment / Getty Images

Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced yesterday that it will start a trial on a new drug designed specifically for COVID-19, a milestone in the race to stop the infectious disease, according to STAT News.

Read More Show Less
The Sumatran rhino is one of 515 endangered species of land animals on the brink of extinction. Mark Carwardine / Photolibrary / Getty Images

The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.

Read More Show Less
People are having a hard time trying to understand what information is reliable and what information they can trust. Aekkarak Thongjiew / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Cathy Cassata

With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.

They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Workers clean up a crude oil leak from a pipeline in Minnesota in 2002. JOEY MCLEISTER / Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Trump administration has finalized a rule making it harder for states and tribal communities to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that threaten waterways.

Read More Show Less