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Drought could shut hydropower plant at California’s Lake Oroville for first time since 1967


A hydropower plant at California’s drought-stricken Lake Oroville that powers up to 800,000 homes could be shut down for the first time since 1967 as the Southwest heatwave continues to strain the region’s electrical grid.  

Lake Oroville, which is the state’s second largest reservoir, dropped to around 700 feet above sea level. If it continues to fall to 640 feet, there won’t enough water to operating the plant, California Energy Commission spokesperson Lindsay Buckley told CNN.

California governor Gavin Newsom already declared a state of emergency after temperatures across the state soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit and reached nearly 130 degrees in Death Valley, where its own 1913 record for hottest air temperature ever reported on Earth could be broken.  

California is looking to avoid the woes of last summer, when rolling power outages bothered Californians for several days during a heatwave.  

On Wednesday, the California Independent System Operator, the main power grid operator in the state, also issued an alert, asking for a five-hour voluntary electricity conversation effort on Thursday from 5pm to 10pm, peak usage times.

‘It is necessary to take action to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure and increase energy capacity,’ the state of emergency proclamation reads.

A woman is seen next to a temperature display in Death Valley National Park in California

A digital sign displays a temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit as a heat wave continues to bake the Southwest United States in Las Vegas, Nevada

A digital sign displays a temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit as a heat wave continues to bake the Southwest United States in Las Vegas, Nevada

In Phoenix (pictured), temperatures reached as high as 118 degrees this week

In Phoenix (pictured), temperatures reached as high as 118 degrees this week

The declaration will ease restrictions on backup generators and sources of carbon-powered electricity.

Fuel consumption and air-quality restrictions for utility companies will also be rolled back.

Many of the provisions in the state of emergency are set to expire on Saturday night, though some last into next week.

‘The proclamation suspends certain permitting requirements, allowing the use of back-up power generation and freeing up additional energy capacity to help alleviate the heat-induced demands on the state’s energy grid,’ the California governor’s office said in a statement to Fox News

The declaration comes as temperatures in the region have reached as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix, Arizona.

Signage warns of extreme heat danger at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park

Signage warns of extreme heat danger at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park

Visitors take pictures at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park

Visitors take pictures at the salt flats of Badwater Basin inside Death Valley National Park

Gavin Newsom declared the state of emergency after temperatures across the state soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Gavin Newsom declared the state of emergency after temperatures across the state soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Tourists on a road trip from Texas, take pictures with a thermometer displaying temperatures of 130 degrees Fahrenheit at Death Valley National Park

Tourists on a road trip from Texas, take pictures with a thermometer displaying temperatures of 130 degrees Fahrenheit at Death Valley National Park

The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for much of the Southwest, including Arizona, southern Nevada, much of California and southern Utah. 

Heat advisories were issued for parts of the Central Plains, including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

‘It’s a pretty big impact with respect to where the record heat is,’ National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Oravec said from the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

A high-pressure system has been parked for three days over the Southwest, a region used to temperatures of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit between now and September.

‘But now the temperatures in the last several days, especially today, are going anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees above average,’ Oravec said.

On Wednesday, much of California was either under an excessive heat warning or watch

On Wednesday, much of California was either under an excessive heat warning or watch 

The record high temperatures in the heatwave continued to pester the southwest on Thursday

The record high temperatures in the heatwave continued to pester the southwest on Thursday

Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday tied its all-time high temperature since record-keeping began in 1894, at 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

California’s Death Valley National Park, typically one of the hottest spots in the world, recorded 129 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday.

‘Up to a certain temperature it’s OK, like maybe 120, but once it gets above that is when it really gets hard,’ said Willo Alford, who runs a general store in Death Valley Village and has lived there most of her life.

The National Weather Service has said there could be ‘dangerously hot, potentially life-threatening temperatures’ in the San Joaquin Valley through Saturday.

Some regions in the state are beginning to open cooling centers for those struggling to combat the heat. 

With air conditioners cranked up in homes and businesses, Texas and California urged consumers to conserve energy during peak times to avoid blackouts.

‘The public’s help is essential when extreme weather or other factors beyond our control put undue stress on the electric grid,’ said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive of the California ISO, which operates the grid in most of California.

Forecast high temperatures on June 17, 2021, with boxes indicating record highs (Weatherbell)

Forecast high temperatures on June 17, 2021, with boxes indicating record highs (Weatherbell)

Some of the heat records that fell this week have lasted for multiple decades

Some of the heat records that fell this week have lasted for multiple decades

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, expects Thursday’s demand to break the June record set on Monday.

Both states have previously imposed rotating or controlled outages to prevent more widespread collapses of their power systems – California during a heat wave in August 2020 and Texas during a brutal freeze in February 2021.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings across the Southwest to warn of fire dangers and major blazes were burning across the region, although most of them were more than 50 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.

‘Mother Nature, please bring on a productive monsoon. Be gone: #heat wave #wildfires,’ Monica Surfaro of Tuscan, Arizona, wrote on Twitter.

A cold front is expected to bring relief to the midsection of the country on Sunday as temperatures in the Southwest slowly moderate as well

A cold front is expected to bring relief to the midsection of the country on Sunday as temperatures in the Southwest slowly moderate as well

A cold front is expected to bring relief to the midsection of the country on Sunday as temperatures in the Southwest slowly moderate as well.

‘The heat wave, at least the record portions of the heat wave, looks like it will be coming to them this weekend,’ Oravec said.

Last summer, California had to deal with several nights of rolling power outages for the first time in two decades due to a heatwave.

The provisions in the state of emergency declaration are aimed at preventing such issues from cropping up again.

To that end, the power grid operator in California is hoping residents will bump thermostats above 78 degrees.

They also want people to refrain from using washers, dishwashers and major appliances.

Dry land is visible, at a section that is normally under water, on the banks of Lake Oroville, which is the second largest reservoir in California

Dry land is visible, at a section that is normally under water, on the banks of Lake Oroville, which is the second largest reservoir in California

The heat wave has also taken a devastating toll on an already drought-ravaged region, drying up water supplies and torching vegetation

The heat wave has also taken a devastating toll on an already drought-ravaged region, drying up water supplies and torching vegetation

‘Tens of thousands of households modestly adjusting their consumption can have a big aggregate impact. 

According to the Washington Post, this is the first time the power grid operator has issued a ‘Flex Alert’ in 2021.

Notably, the alert comes before the summer has even officially started, suggesting hotter temperatures and more alerts could be on the horizon.

”Tens of thousands of households modestly adjusting their consumption can have a big aggregate impact,’ said Jim Williams, an energy systems expert at the University of San Francisco.

Officials believe the electrical grid is better prepared than a year ago, when rolling blackouts plummeted hundreds of thousands into the dark for several nights.

‘Tens of thousands of households modestly adjusting their consumption can have a big aggregate impact.

People gather at the beach to cool-off as a heatwave continues in Oceanside, California

People gather at the beach to cool-off as a heatwave continues in Oceanside, California

This is the first time the power grid operator has issued a 'Flex Alert' in 2021

This is the first time the power grid operator has issued a ‘Flex Alert’ in 2021

Officials believe rolling blackouts are less likely than they were a year ago, but they can’t be ruled out.

The heat wave has also taken a devastating toll on an already drought-ravaged region, drying up water supplies and torching vegetation. 

Amid the current heat wave Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in southern Nevada, has fallen to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. 

The lake’s water level has now dropped 143 feet below its 2000 level, or 34.7 percent, when it was last considered full. What’s left is a ‘bathtub ring’ of white minerals as tall as Lady Liberty along the lake’s steep shoreline. 

Aside from straining electrical grids, the severe temperature is drying up water supplies and vegetation, which creates a combustible concoction for wild fires, and affecting 40 to 50 million people in the region.

More than 20 large wildfires are already burning in Arizona, California and other parts of the West. 

And approximately 89 percent of the western US is experiencing drought conditions, with more than half reported to be in ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ drought, and this region is on track for its most severe drought in history. 



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