Water in a key California reservoir will fall so low this summer that its hydroelectric power plant will be forced to shut down for the first time, officials said Thursday, straining the state’s already-taxed electric grid.
An unrelenting drought and record heat have pushed the water supply at Northern California’s Lake Oroville to deplete to “alarming levels,” which will likely force the first-ever closure of the Edward Hyatt Power Plant since it opened in 1967, California Department of Water Resources spokesperson Lindsay Buckley told CNN.
The water in Lake Oroville — the state’s second largest reservoir — is pumped through underground facilities to generate electricity, which can power up to 800,000 homes when operating at full capacity.
While the water level in the reservoir is currently hovering around 700 feet above sea level, if it continues to fall at the currently projected rate to 640 feet there will not be enough water to continue operating the Hyatt plant in two to three months, coinciding with the typical peak of the summer heat and wildfire season.
“If lake levels fall below those elevations later this summer, DWR will, for the first time, cease generation at the Hyatt power plant due to lack of sufficient water to turn the plant’s electrical generation turbines,” said Liza Whitmore, Public Information Officer of DWR’s Oroville Field Division.
The Hyatt power plant is the fourth largest hydroelectric energy producer statewide, according to the state’s energy commission. Due to the already low water supply at Lake Oroville, the plant’s output has been reduced to 20% of its total capacity and officials have relied on other facilities to avoid major power interruptions to homes and businesses, Whitmore said.
A similar situation was playing out at the Hoover Dam, which forms Lake Mead, the United States’ largest reservoir and produces enough electricity for nearly 8 million Americans, where record-low water levels have reduced energy capacity by roughly 25 percent.
A hydroelectric plant downstream of the Hyatt facility in California will also operate at reduced levels this summer despite increased power demands during the typical summer peak, Whitmore said.
“In previous droughts, lake levels were high enough at Oroville’s reservoir to continue powerplant operations,” she said. “In an effort to preserve as much storage as possible, DWR has requested a Temporary Urgency Change Petition… that will allow DWR to reduce flows through the Delta.”
Water officials statewide are urging Californians to reduce both power and water consumption as much as possible during the hot summer months ahead. They recommend curtailing water use by taking shorter showers, fixing leaks at home, planting drought-tolerant trees, and reduce watering home landscapes. Some officials in Northern California have already taken a stricter approach by declaring a water shortage emergency and issuing mandatory water restrictions that are punishable by fines for noncompliance.
“Water is a precious and limited resource, especially in drought-prone California where the next dry period could be right around the corner,” the state’s water resources department said. “As a result, water conservation and the efficient use of California’s water supply are major priorities.”