Hydro Power and Drought Management – Maximizing Water Use Efficiency

Hydro Power and Drought Management Maximizing Water Use Efficiency

Hydro power is the world’s leading source of renewable energy, capable of supplying almost instantaneous electricity when needed. Unfortunately, climate-driven droughts are causing major disruptions to hydropower generation around the world.

Dams are essential to producing clean power, especially where electricity costs are high and gas supplies are limited. Furthermore, dams form an integral part of the global clean-energy transition.

Water Use Efficiency

Water use efficiency can be improved through various strategies, such as increasing agricultural water productivity and reducing losses in irrigation networks. These tactics could also be applied to industrial processes and energy cooling systems in order to maximize water efficiency at the basin scale.

Water-food-energy (WFE) systems rely on effective resource allocation. To meet demand for surface water for hydroelectric generation and agriculture, as well as groundwater abstraction to guarantee irrigation supply, surface water must be balanced appropriately.

The Water-Food-Energy Nexus can be further complicated by competing water management objectives. Hydroelectric power plants often store more water to boost hydraulic head during dry seasons, which may conflict with downstream irrigation requirements.

Climate change is projected to present a major challenge for hydropower projects, particularly those located in Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, California and Arkansas. This could reduce dam output and result in reduced electricity generation from these dams.

Irrigation Management

Irrigation management is a critical element of water conservation, ensuring soil and plants receive the right amount of moisture at the appropriate time.

Irrigation management techniques can help maximize water use for crops while still achieving adequate yields. Producers can monitor evapotranspiration to identify when crop needs exceed available water and adjust irrigation application rates accordingly.

This allows them to maximize the water available for plant roots and cut costs associated with irrigation. Furthermore, it protects the environment by reducing soil erosion and conserving groundwater supplies.

CIMIS program manages a network of 120 automated weather stations throughout California for irrigation management. By collecting weather data at these stations, one can predict evapotranspiration and adjust irrigation according to crop needs.

Water Conservation

Water conservation is the practice of conserving water to meet human needs. It includes strategies such as education and awareness campaigns, tiered water rates (charge higher prices when usage increases), and other techniques that limit water consumption.

Hydro power systems rely on reservoirs to generate electricity by releasing water through turbines. During a drought, reduced rainfall and snowfall lead to less water flowing into these reservoirs, decreasing production.

Contrary to popular belief, hydropower systems in the Western United States rarely experience drought that cripples all their hydroelectric capacity simultaneously.

Climate diversity across the region makes for unpredictable hydro power production, but dams can ramp up and down to maintain an equilibrium on the grid. Unfortunately, a repeat of 1976-1977 drought could prove even more severe for hydropower production than this century’s most recent droughts.

Water Planning

Water planning is the process of assessing the need for water supplies and deciding what action should be taken. It includes local and regional water supply planning, quality and quantity planning as well as drought monitoring.

Planning is essential, yet implementation of a water plan on a large scale can be challenging due to limited resources.

Water plans are typically most pertinent at local levels, where agencies have more financial resources and independent implementation authority.

Even at these lower levels, water problems tend to be long-term and evolving. They involve intricate issues, disagreements, and difficult conversations that evolve over time.

Therefore, water plans should address conflicts over different water uses and objectives. Requirements-based and benefit-cost approaches can be particularly useful in less intense conflicts, as they enable direct and technical analysis of problems as well as their implications for cost efficiency.