Drought cuts power production of California dams
Shasta Dam, looming more than 600 feet tall and gatekeeper of the largest man-made lake in California, was designed to perform two crucial functions: Store water and generate power.
And for decades, the massive concrete structure has channeled water to cities and farms while generating up to 710 megawatts of hydropower, enough to provide electricity for more than 532,000 homes.
But amid four years of drought, the reservoir is drained to 50% of capacity, cutting the dam’s power production by about a third, according to federal reclamation officials.
The story is the same at many dams across California, where electricity production at some is expected to be less than 20% of normal because of low water levels.
The shortfall shouldn’t cause brownouts, officials said, because California relies on dams for power far less than it did in decades past, due in part to the emergence of solar and wind energy.
But it does come at a price.
Hydropower, even with its diminished profile, is important to California’s energy mix as a quick, reliable and inexpensive source of electricity — a buffer during moments of peak demand.