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Hydropower production can continue for now 


Lake Powell dropped below elevation 3,525 on Tuesday. The reservoir will have to drop another 35 feet before it can no longer produce electricity. But it needs to snow hard for the next month.

The level 3,525 is best understood as an aspiration level—and breaching it a reflection of another subpar winter in the upper Colorado River. The minimum pool level is 2,490.

To avert low levels in Powell, Reclamation last year released unusually large volumes of water from Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs, and this winter it released less water to flow downstream to Lake Mead.

Glen Canyon side“Reclamation is not planning to take further action to address this temporary dip below 3,525 feet because the spring runoff will resolve the deficit in the short term,” said Wayne Pullan, Reclamation Upper Colorado Basin Regional director. “However, our work is not done. Lake Powell is projected to drop below elevation 3,525 feet again later this year.”

Electric utilities in Colorado and elsewhere that are not privately owned have access to varying amounts of power from Glen Canyon and other dams upstream of Powell. Loss of hydroelectric production has already caused an upward pressure on wholesale power costs. Prices would escalate far more if production ceases altogether.

Hydropower also contributes more broadly to grid resilience. It can be used to restart the electrical grid when a “black start” is required. Diesel generators can be used to do this, but hydroelectric power plants are often designated as black-start sources to restore network interconnections. See the explanation offered by Wikipedia.

See also a February report, Hydropower’s Contributions to Grid Resilience.

Tonya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, on Thursday described Glen Canyon’s hydroelectric production as delivering a “huge benefit in electricity in a large area of the Mountain West,” including the ability to bolster grid resilience during blackouts and other emergencies.

Anne Castle, speaking at the same forum, the Stegner Center’s “Colorado River Compact: Navigating the Future,” said Glen Canyon power sales deliver $150 million in revenues that have been used for a wide variety of programs.


Allen Best
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