California state water officials have been forced to shut down a major hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville as the state’s drought has caused water levels at the reservoir to fall near the minimum necessary to generate power.
It’s the first time the state has shut down the Edward Hyatt Power Plant due to depleted water levels since the plant went into operation in 1967. The Hyatt is the fourth-largest hydropower plant in the state and when fully operational, it can generate enough electricity to power around 800,000 homes and businesses. The loss of power could fuel even more rolling blackouts this summer as the state grapples with a historic drought and record-breaking heat waves.
“This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Dept. of Water Resources (DWR.)
DWR officials had warned that the plant could no longer generate power if water levels at Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, fall below 640 feet above sea level. The six-turbine power plant had to be taken offline after the reservoir’s water level sank to an historic low of less than 642 feet, exceeding the previous all-time low of 643 feet, which was set in 1977.
The reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills is currently less than a quarter full and water elevations are forecast to reach as low as 620 feet by the end of October. DWR said the record-low levels are a result of the state’s drought that has intensified due to climate change. Although California consistently experiences drought, climate change has fueled high temperatures and dry soil that significantly reduced water runoff into reservoirs this spring.
DWR is working to “preserve as much water in storage as possible,” said Nemeth, noting that the department anticipated the shutdown and planned for a loss of water and grid management.
Gov. Gavin Newsom asked California residents in July to curb household water consumption by 15% to preserve water supply. Grid operators have also urged residents to limit electricity use to avoid blackouts as wildfires continue to scorch the state.
“Falling reservoir levels are another example of why it is so critical that all Californians conserve water,” Nemeth said.
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