Category: Hydropower

Energy Secretary elaborates on PMA memo

Today, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu published on the Department of Energy blog about the PMA memo he released March 16. In it, he further describes what the memo is intended to do and the next steps Western will take in gathering stakeholder input.

“Earlier this year, I called on our Nation’s Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) to help lead the 21st century transformation of our nation’s electricity sector to better protect our economic and national security. As this process gets underway, the Department of Energy will work in close collaboration with each PMA to solicit the critical on-the-ground input vital to achieving this goal in the best manner possible. I look forward to working with all interested parties in every PMA region to meet this shared objective,” said Secretary Chu.

Click to read the entire blog post.

California releases results from fifth and final snowpack survey

The California Department of Water Resources announced the results from its fifth and final snowpack survey May 1. The survey confirmed the snowpack’s low water content, which will affect water and power deliveries in California this year.

Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 40 percent of normal. The relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, from which Western’s Central Valley Project relies on to fill reservoirs and generate hydropower, was 70 percent of normal for the northern Sierras, 35 percent of normal for the central Sierras and 20 percent of normal for the southern Sierras.

Last year’s snowpack water content state-wide was 190 percent of normal by this time, which will reduce the impact of the scarce snowpack this year.

“The impact of a below-normal water year has been somewhat mitigated by above-average reservoir storage levels due to unusually wet conditions during the 2010-2011 operating season,” said Sierra Nevada Power Marketer Sonja Anderson.

However, operators of both the state and Federal water projects have already announced reduced water and power deliveries for the upcoming year, including from Western’s Central Valley Project.

Central Valley Project customers receive more water

The Bureau of Reclamation announced April 13 that it was going to be increasing its water supply allocation to Central Valley Project contractors as a result of improved snow pack conditions.

The revised projected deliveries are expected to increase both project use and net project generation, which means more hydropower to sell for Western’s Sierra Nevada region.

“The snow water content ranges from 81 percent of the April 1 average for the Northern Sierra to 32 percent for the Southern Sierra,” stated the press release.

California releases fourth snowpack survey

The California Department of Water Resources announced that the results from the fourth of five surveys confirming below-normal water year conditions.

“An unusually wet March improved conditions, but did not make up for the previous dry months,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin.

The average water content of California’s snowpack was still only 55 percent of the expected April 1 normal. The relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, from which Western’s Central Valley Project receives snowmelt, was 78 percent of April 1 normal for the northern Sierras, 55 percent of the April 1 normal for the central Sierras and 39 percent of the April 1 normal for the southern Sierras. At the same time last year, the snowpack water content showed 173 percent of the April 1 average for the northern Sierras, 161 percent in the central Sierras, and 155 percent for the southern Sierras.

Both the State and Federal water projects have announced reduced deliveries for the upcoming water year.

“The reduced water deliveries are expected to result in reduced hydropower generation output for the Central Valley and State Water Projects,” said Western’s Sierra Nevada Region Power Marketing Manager Sonja Anderson. “However, the impact of reduced water deliveries is somewhat mitigated by last year’s above-normal precipitation, which has resulted in higher than average starting reservoir storage levels.”

Hoover Dam Bypass: An award-winning bridge

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge was honored this week with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2012 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award March 22. At nearly 900 feet above the Colorado River and 1,900 feet long, the Hoover Dam Bypass helps to protect the security of the dam by removing through traffic from US 93. The structure was constructed in a harsh environment where temperatures reached triple digits during the day. The structure is the highest and longest arch concrete bridge in the Western hemisphere and features the world’s tallest concrete columns.

The project was recognized not only as a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole but also emphasized environmental and cultural stewardship. The highway underpasses were built for endangered desert bighorn sheep, native plants in the construction corridor were preserved and replaced, and Native American cultural properties adjacent to the site were protected.

Western staff joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service and the states of Arizona and Nevada to build the bridge across the Colorado River, bypassing the highway that spans the crest of Hoover Dam.

Read more about the OCEA award and Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge at the ASCE’s news release.

House approves California water bill

On Feb. 29, the House of Representatives passed HR 1837, also known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, which will create more water storage capacity in the state of California. If enacted as written, the proposed bill would result in a number of changes, including, but not necessarily limited to:

  • the existing environmental regulatory baseline under which the Central Valley Project is operated
  • the list of scientific and fish and wildlife management agencies which would  responsible for assisting the Secretary of Interior in determining what would constitute reasonable in-stream flow requirements
  • potential increases in both project use and Base Resource allocations

However, the biggest impact to Western will be the portion of the bill that relates to the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. These impacts would result from resetting the existing environmental regulatory compliance standards to a previous one (i.e., the 1994 Bay-Delta Accords). As proposed, this bill would assure transparency of CVPIA Restoration Fund expenditures by creating an oversight expenditure board, enact a sunset date as to when the Restoration Funds may be reduced as stipulated in the original act, and capping contributions to CVP power preference users as is the case for CVP water users. Because preference power customers pay CVPIA Restoration Fund assessments as an additive to their cost-based Base Resource allocation, these actions will ease some of the cost burdens currently faced by Western’s Sierra Nevada customers.

The bill faces a somewhat more problematical future in the Senate as the measure is opposed by several environmental groups. Stakeholders are also concerned that parts of the proposed new legislation could be separated and attached as amendments to other legislation being considered by Congress.

California releases results from snowpack survey

The California Department of Water Resources announced the results from the third of five surveys confirming the impacts associated with the continuing dry winter conditions.

Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 26 percent of the expected April 1 normal and continued to remain significantly below normal. The relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 28 percent of April 1 normal for the northern Sierras, 26 percent of the April 1 normal for the central Sierras, and 33 percent of the April 1 normal for the southern Sierras.

During normal water conditions, January and Feb. are usually wet. However, the dearth of winter storms has caused state and Federal water managers to announce that projected water deliveries for the upcoming water year will be substantially below normal contract maximums. Although March affords an opportunity for chance for more precipitation, both the state and Federal water projects have announced reduced deliveries for the upcoming water year.

The reduced water deliveries are expected to result in reduced hydropower generation output for the Central Valley and State Water Projects. The impact of reduced water deliveries are, however, somewhat mitigated by last year’s above-normal precipitation which resulted in higher-than- average starting reservoir storage levels.

Large hydro projects could apply to California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

In February, the California legislature introduced Assembly Bill 1771 Renewable energy resources: hydroelectric generation, which, if enacted, would revise what size hydropower plant can contribute to an energy service provider’s renewable portfolio standard and how many megawatts can be counted.

Currently, only small hydropower plants qualify to be used as a renewable energy source under California’s 33-percent RPS requirement, and the maximum hydropower contribution is 30 megawatts. 

If enacted in its present form, the hydropower plant size and megawatt limits would be eliminated, which could increase interest in Western’s Sierra Nevada region’s Central Valley Project. The CVP’s 11 hydropower plants produced 5,369 gigawatt-hours in Fiscal Year 2011 for preference power customers in California.  

The bill is tentatively scheduled to be heard in committee March 22.

California announces below normal snowpack levels

The California Department of Water Resources announced continuing dry winter conditions in its state-wide survey Feb. 1, which could impact the available water for Western’s Central Valley Project this summer.
 
“Water content in California’s mountain snowpack is far below normal for this time of year,” stated the department’s press release.
 
Overall, the average water content of California’s snowpack was 37 percent of normal for this date. For the CVP area, the relative composition of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 26 percent of the April 1 seasonal average for the northern Sierras, 20 percent for the central Sierras and 25 percent for the southern Sierras.
 
January is typically one of the wettest months, but with a lack of winter storms, state water managers have begun to express concerns about the need for more rain and snow.
 
“So far, we just haven’t received a decent number of winter storms,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin.
 
“Because last year was such an above-normal water year, starting water storage levels for Federal and state storage reservoirs are relatively higher than normal,” said Sierra Nevada Power Marketing Manager Sonja Anderson. This will help delay any affects to the power supply even if the snowpack doesn’t reach its average levels.
 
“As long as California receives normal to near normal precipitation levels for the rest of the water year, water and hydropower output for the Central Valley and state water projects would not be as detrimentally impacted as in past years,” said Anderson.
 
However, any reductions in the output of the Reclamation CVP power plants will raise the cost of Western’s CVP power to customers, which is marketed by the percent of hydropower available.

Reclamation Extends Comment Period on Glen Canyon Dam Operations EIS

After receiving a number of requests, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Park Service decided to extend the scoping period for a new Environmental Impact Statement related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River from Dec. 30 to Jan. 31.

During the scoping period, agencies determine what factors to consider in the EIS and gather comments from the public to identify social, economic and environmental concerns and project alternatives to evaluate.

The EIS, which is jointly led by Reclamation and the Park Service, involves adopting a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam.

The plan, the first comprehensive review of dam operations in 15 years, will ensure that regulated flows on the Colorado River meet the goals of supplying hydroelectricity and water for communities, agriculture and industry; protecting endangered species; and lessening the impact on downstream ecosystems, including the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon.

Changes to current water flows will be evaluated as “alternatives” in the EIS.

For more information on the EIS or how to submit a comment, visit the project’s web site.