Is it climate change, or just a heat wave? Maybe the former is intensifying the latter. This week, 60 million people in the United States are enduring extreme heat. Texas broke a heat record on June 12 as the electrical grid strained with the number of people turning on air conditioners. Families noted unusual new residents as outdoor insects crawled into any available shelter to escape sweltering heat. Wildfires sparked: more than 30 recent conflagrations burned one million American acres.
Heat waves add to concern about drought, an ongoing challenge. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest water reservoir, recently marked its lowest level on record since 1930. The Colorado River, source of Lake Mead’s water, recently reported historic new water shortages, triggering enforced reductions along the Upper and Lower Basin states. Now 143 feet below the target full level, Lake Mead’s drop is as deep as the Statue of Liberty is high. That water drop threatens the water supply of millions of residents, farmers, industrial operations, and others. At 36% capacity, if the water in Lake Mead continues to fall (it has been losing more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – every day – for the last 22 years), the hydropower capability of the Hoover Dam (which formed Lake Mead) will also be threatened. Engineers and scientists are watching: if Lake Mead drops another 175 feet, the Hoover Dam will reach “dead pool” (895 feet) and the great dam will fall silent. Because 90% of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead, that city will not only have less electricity but very little water. (Ramirez et al., 2021)
It’s not just Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam that are of concern due to heat and drought. The Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s first hydroelectric major achievements, warned customers both residential and commercial to turn off the lights. Nashville Electric Service asked people to turn down air conditioning. Itaipú, harnessing the Paraná River, has similarly found drought threatening its hydroelectric capability.
Hydroelectricity, as the term indicates, is dependent upon water. Australia recently announced Snowy Hydro 2.0, in an effort to double electrical output of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric. But the snowy part is problematic now that climate change is threatening snowmelt. Further concern is that 35% percent of the “Australian Alps” have seen wetland loss. Now, snow cover may reduce by 20% to as much as 60%.
Drought has serious consequences for agriculture, habitation, and now hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power is one of the earliest and most widely applied methods of generating electricity from renewable sources. What happens if or when water becomes non-renewable?
Daley, Beth et al., “Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains.” 22 March 2017. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/snowy-hydro-scheme-will-be-left-high-and-dry-unless-we-look-after-the-mountains-74830
David, Molly. “Nashville Electric Service asks customers to help lessen energy use during high temperatures.” The Tennessean. 13 June 2022. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2022/06/13/heat-wave-tennessee-2022-nashville-electric-service-customers-conserve-power/7613867001/
Ramirez, Rachel, Pedram Javaheri, Drew Kann. “The shocking numbers behind the Lake Mead drought crisis.” 17 June 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/cnn-climate
Spang, Edward, William Moomaw, Kelly Gallagher, Paul Kirshen, David H. Marks. “The water consumption of energy production: An international comparison.” 2014. Environmental Research Letters. 9. 105002. 10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266620784_The_water_consumption_of_energy_production_An_international_comparison
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Un