Drought Hastens End Of Central Texas Hydropower

Drought Hastens End Of Central Texas Hydropower

March 10, 2014 • 10:15AM

The years-long drought in Central Texas could eventually snuff out a renewable power source that fueled the regions early growth: hydropower. Faced with dwindling water supplies, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which supplies water and energy to much of Central Texas, is limiting downstream water releases for activities such as rice farming.

A Texas Tribune piece in today’s New York Times reports that the changes have shrunk the amount of electricity the agency generates from its six Colorado River dams. Hydroelectricity now makes up only 6% of the LCRA’s energy portfolio, a mix of coal, natural gas, and the Greenies’ windmills.

The end of hydroelectricity in the region would close the book on a fuel source that played a major role in the history of Central Texas and the creation of the LCRA, whose dams make up about 40% of the state’s hydropower capacity.

Until the mid-1960s, the agency generated most of its electricity from its Colorado River dams, before the region’s growth outpaced the generators’ capacity, forcing the LCRA to build other power plants.

The agency now generates about a third of the hydropower it did in 2011, the last year that most rice farmers received Colorado River water. If the drought persists, said Ryan Rowney, executive manager of water operations at the LCRA, water levels could, within several years, fall below levels needed to turn the agency’s hydropower generators.

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