The implications of climate change and the 4-year California drought are just beginning to become clear. The snowpack in the Sierras, where reservoirs and dams ultimately feed the canal system that delivers water to the Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California, is at an all-time low. While strict water rationing is mandatory for some residential and commercial consumers in many parts of the state, there are other forces at play. Some are laudable, and some are not.
On one hand, many city and municipal water districts are offering new rebate programs and incentives to remove lawns that require watering and replace them with xeriscape landscapes that require little if any water. On the other hand, the agricultural economy in California’s Central Valley needs water for almonds, pistachios, and a host of other products, and the large farms are reportedly pumping down the aquifers to support their business.
Thinking Long Term
Prolonged drought could also have major effects on the electric transmission and distribution (T&D) system, as well as on the water delivery system across California.
- The major water agencies, including the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) managing the canal system between Northern and Southern California, have for many years been not only a major end-use consumer, but also a demand response resource for the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). If the volume of water moving south through the Central Valley and over the mountains into the Los Angeles basin decreases substantially, the loss of demand response resources during peak demand conditions could be substantial.
- With limited snowpack, major California reservoirs are now at record low levels and have limited, if any, hydropower capacity. Innovative pumped water storage projects like Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E’s) Helms System, which uses off-peak Diablo Canyon nuclear power to pump water up for day-time generation use, will be at risk.
- Recent reports in media have suggested that many locations in California’s Central Valley are sinking as a result of ongoing water pumping from the underground aquifers by all types of commercial and agricultural businesses. Not only are residential, commercial, and agricultural wells going dry, but the land itself is subsiding. This has tremendous implications for California’s Peripheral Canal system and other longstanding canals that transport water north to south through the central valley. As subsidence occurs, it is entirely possible that cement canals will fracture, and major leaks will occur, further exacerbating the water loss problem.
As in many states, the electric transmission infrastructure in California is aging. It’s clear that California’s drought will have a significant effect on the electric power market as well, degrading demand response resources, electric demand for water pumping, and hydropower resources.
Tags: California, Climate Change, Demand Side Management, Drought, Renewable Energy, Utility Transformations
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