July 7, 2015--Mapping drought's impact on electricity generation (High Country News)

The water-energy nexus spans the world of electricity generation and water movement, particularly in Western states. It takes water to produce steam for coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, and they usually need water to cool them down. Huge amounts of electricity are needed to pump water across the desert; the Southern Nevada Water Authority is Nevada’s biggest user of electricity, and the Central Arizona Project relies heavily on the Navajo Generating Station to keep water moving through the canals. Surely the most obvious link between water and energy, and between climate and electricity generation, though, is found at the West’s numerous hydroelectric generation stations, and California — deep in a nasty drought — is feeling that link in a painful way. The relationship is pretty simple: More water in a reservoir or river equals more potential for generating electricity by releasing that water to turn turbines. All of California’s reservoirs are far below the average levels for this time of year, so that the “bathtub rings” on many of them are bigger than the remaining water is deep. New Melones reservoir is sitting at just 17 percent of capacity; Shasta reservoir, one of the state’s biggest hydroelectric power plants, is only 49 percent full. Meanwhile, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, backed up behind the Southwest’s two biggest hydropower plants, are at critically low levels. This is impacting electricity generation, without a doubt, and doing so during the hottest months of summer, when the grid is already stressed. To view the full article visit High Country News.