Is hydroelectric power’s future ending?
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Is hydroelectric power’s future ending?

August 01, 2022 | Chart

Hydroelectric energy is an important contributor to the country’s renewable energy portfolio, as we outlined in our recent research brief Renewable Sources. But if current conditions remain unchanged and water demand continues to outweigh the shrinking supply base of the Colorado River, households and businesses in the American West will experience further water shortages combined with higher water prices.

In recent weeks, news reports describing the worsening impacts from the 22-year drought have become more frequent. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is threatened by low water levels, Lake Powell’s water level, fed by the Colorado River, is currently only measuring 25 percent of what would be considered “full” conditions, and Lake Mead, the reservoir downstream from Lake Powell feeding the Hoover Dam, is less than 100 feet above the level at which the dam would have to cease the generation of electricity.

To put the current level of Lake Mead into perspective, its highest level was reached in July 1983 at 1,244 feet. Since then, the lake’s water level has fallen at what appears to be an accelerating rate; in the 12 months ending in June 2022, the decline measured nearly 26 feet and Lake Mead now stands at 1,043 feet. This is not only a growing emergency for the Colorado Rider’s lower basin states such as California, Nevada, and Arizona, when it comes to their water supply, but also for the Hoover dam. Since its construction in 1936, the dam has been an important source for hydroelectric energy in the West but if water levels continue to fall below 950 feet, the era of electricity generation at the dam may come to an end.