Aug 5, 2021 - Energy & Environment

California drought forces shutdown of historic hydropower plant

Penstock intakes for the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville during a drought in Oroville, California, U.S., on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Penstock intakes for the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville during a drought in Oroville, California, on July 15. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A largescale California hydropower plant was shut down on Thursday after ongoing drought conditions reduced water levels in Lake Oroville to historic lows, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Why it matters: It is the first time the Edward Hyatt hydroelectric power plant has ceased operations since it was constructed in 1967, at a time when California is warning about the potential for rolling blackouts.

  • The plant feeds from a reservoir at Lake Oroville in Butte County, the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California, and has the capacity to power almost half a million households, according to the Bee.
  • But the lake is less than one-quarter full — surpassing its record lowest level set in 1977 — amid the state's ongoing water crisis.

What they're saying: “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 Department of Water Resources, in a statement.

  • "DWR anticipated this moment, and the state has planned for its loss in both water and grid management," the statement adds.
  • “Falling reservoir levels are another example of why it is so critical that all Californians conserve water. We are calling on everyone to take action now to reduce water use by 15 percent, to preserve as much water supply in storage as possible should we experience another dry year. We are all in this together.”

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has asked households this summer to voluntarily reduce water usage.

  • He also declared a regional drought state of emergency in 50 of the state's 58 counties, where more than 40% of Californians live.
  • These conditions have significantly affected power generation, Axios' Ben Geman has reported.
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