The ongoing drought is seriously effecting hydroelectric power production on the Colorado River. Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) dams are experiencing an overall reduction of 25% from normal. The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the agency which distributes federal hydropower, must now purchase electricity from private sources to meet their long-term obligations to their customers.
The Bureau of Reclamation has emphatically stated that the region could not survive without power from Glen Canyon Dam. The drought has demonstrated this to be untrue, with surplus power from non-federal projects easily making up the shortfall. Should the pattern of drought continue for another two years, Lake Powell reservoir will lower to the point where Glen Canyon Dam’s powerplant will become inoperational.
This situation will effect US taxpayers. Congress mandated that hydropower revenues must repay the loans used to build CRSP projects. Lower reservoir levels mean less power and less revenue to meet these loan obligations. Additionally, power purchased by WAPA to replace the difference comes at premium price, further effecting loan payments which are scheduled for full payment in about fifty years.
According to WAPA spokesperson LaVerne Kriss, this is not yet a problem. “When we have cash flow problems, we use a pool called the Colorado River Basin Fund to float us through times of shortage, and we make up the difference when the reservoirs recharge and surplus water becomes available again.”
“Not true,” says Living Rivers’ conservation director John Weisheit. “That fund has been near zero for some time, and with persistent drought it’s not going to be replenished anytime soon.”
This will also cause further strains for WAPA-supported recovery programs, which are designed to mitigate the negative impacts from CRSP operations on the critical habitat of endangered species. The failure of these recovery programs will only drive the budget up further and will undermine WAPA’s payback schedule over time. “WAPA will never break even. In fifty more years they will be forced to mitigate other impacts such as sediment removal from the reservoirs. When this occurs the taxpayers will have to contribute to unprecedented subsidies to keep theses projects operational, ” concludes Weisheit.