California’s Drought Is So Bad, It’s Going to Slash Hydropower

California’s Drought Is So Bad, It’s Going to Slash Hydropower
The Castaic Lake reservoir in Los Angeles County has low water levels. (Photo: Mario Tama, Getty Images)

California’s ongoing megadrought — which has already led to water restrictions — is also going to start affecting the state’s ability to generate hydropower. This could raise energy costs for residents and increase emissions, CNN reports.

There are already signs of a difficult summer to come. Outlooks from the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that hydropower would make up only 8% of the state’s total power generation, down from 15%, if California were not under drought conditions. The energy sector will have to use natural gas to fill in the gap left by the lack of hydropower.

There are more than 270 hydroelectric facilities throughout California. In order for these facilities to work, they need moving water to create power, which is why they’re located at or near bodies of water. The water flows from a pipe and into the facility, where it pushes blade in a turbine to create the electricity. Most of the facilities are found at or near dams.

This news comes after residents in South California were asked to reduce their water usage in hopes of stopping reservoirs from reaching even lower levels. After being asked to cut back voluntarily, water usage actually went up about 19% in March, which ushered in the mandated restrictions. Water providers face $US2,000 ($2,776) fines for violations.

The U.S. Southwest has experienced an unusually dry winter, which meant less snowpack that would melt into the nearby reservoirs. This year’s megadrought is the worst the region has experienced in more than 1,000 years. As of last month, the largest water reservoirs in California were disturbingly low. Last month, Lake Oroville was at about 55% of its usual capacity, and Shasta Lake reservoir was at about 40% — the lowest the lake has been in May since record-keeping began in 1977.

Energy concerns in California will likely continue into the summer as the drought sees no end in sight.

At Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River, historically low water levels may have contributed to a dramatic rock slide on Memorial Day, as cliffs that were previously stabilised by water experience new, drier conditions. Lake Powell is close to dipping below the minimum depth needed to generate hydropower, and federal officials have recently opted for extreme measures to keep the reservoir productive.