The drought is forecast to cut California’s hydroelectric power supply in half this summer. That’s bad news for air quality and residents’ utility bills, the US Energy and Information Administration (EIA) said. forecast. The state is likely to rely on more expensive and polluting natural gas to make up for shortfalls in hydropower.
Nearly 60 percent of California is currently dealing with “extreme” drought or worse, according to the National drought monitor map. California’s current water problems stem from low levels of snowpack, which quenches the state’s reservoirs when it melts. In early April, when snowpack typically peaks, the state’s snowpack water content was 40 percent lower than normal levels over the past 30 years.
Two of California’s largest water reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were already “critically low” beginnings of May. We haven’t even made it to summer, when the weather could get even drier and hotter and the demand for air conditioning puts additional pressure on the power grid.
Hydroelectricity is a major source of energy in the United States. It typically accounts for about 15 percent of California’s electricity generation during “normal water conditions,” according to the EIA. But it is expected to drop to just 8 percent this summer, the EIA says.
Sometimes California can buy hydroelectric power from other states in the Pacific Northwest. But Washington state and Oregon are also dealing with drought, so gas may need to fill in the gaps. As a result, the EIA says electricity prices in the western US will likely be 5 percent higher in the coming months. In California, the drought will result in 6 percent more carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector.
California is no stranger to drought, but things have historically gotten worse this year. The first months of 2022 were the driest in over 100 years. Governor Gavin Newsom has asked Californians to voluntarily change your habits — including taking five-minute showers instead of baths and sweeping instead of hosing down outdoor areas when cleaning — in an effort to reduce the state’s water use. In some places, local governments are ordering water shutoffs. Starting todaymany Los Angeles-area residents will only be allowed to water their lawn once a week.
What climate change shapes a future with worsening droughts, it could become difficult for the US to rely on hydropower as a clean energy source to meet its climate goals. The nation relied on hydroelectric power for almost a third of its renewable electricity in 2021. The Biden administration has a goal to make the US power grid run entirely on carbon-free power by 2035.