New year, same Runoff! Welcome back to the hydropower blog that’s now accepting applications for a Batman-esque hero to protect local substations and energy infrastructure. (Just kidding, Runoff doesn’t promote vigilantism, even though substations are important!) Each month, we capture the region’s most important hydropower news and give you our take on it, along with some more lighthearted and interesting segments along the way.
Storms batter California, but improve the state’s hydro outlook
For years now, California has been in the grip of extreme drought. While drought has impacted issues from drinking water supply and irrigation, perhaps the biggest headline grabber has been the issue of hydropower. Hydroelectric dams in the Golden State have had to curtail their output the last two summers and hold water for the most critical needs as reservoir levels had fallen to historic lows.
However, California has literally been deluged with storms over the past month. These storms have caused flooding and, sadly, even the loss of life, but the record surge of rainfall has helped restore reservoirs to healthier, albeit still below-normal conditions, Importantly, all parts of the state have been removed from the extreme drought classification.
Interestingly, in a typical La Niña year–a weather pattern defined by cooler-than-normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean–the jet stream tends to trend further north and take these storms to the Pacific Northwest. However, that isn’t the case this La Niña year. As a result, while California is flooding, most of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia are seeing forecasts of below normal run-off for 2023. There is still time for that to change however.
- Living in the Northwest, but being hydropower advocates means we always feel conflicted by the weather. Do we root for dry weather for our personal lives or for wet weather for good hydro? Candidly, with the wildfire issue we’ve seen across the West in recent years, we tend to root for rain these days. Here’s hoping for a bit more balance in rainfall between California and the Pacific Northwest.
Passing the baton: What to expect from new elected leaders
With January here, local, state, and federal policymakers are beginning their first days of work in their new roles. There is some uncertainty to be expected as clearly evidenced by the current events unfolding in Congress. However, things are also uncertain with regards to how hydropower and broader energy and environmental policy will shape up in these next two years.
Luckily, we are seeing some hydropower advocates take on important roles in Congress. Most notably, perhaps, is that Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers will likely be the new chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. The committee maintains principal responsibility for legislative oversight relating to telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health, air quality and environmental health, the supply and delivery of energy, and interstate and foreign commerce, according to the website. It is considered one of the most powerful committees in Congress, and McMorris Rodgers is anticipated to advocate for reforms to help grow the role of hydropower in achieving the nation’s clean energy goals.
It is also appears Representative Cliff Bentz of Oregon will chair the Water and Oceans Subcommittee. Bentz is known as a strong hydropower supporter.
Across the Columbia, Representative Rick Larsen of Washington state will be the Ranking Member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, replacing Representative DeFazio. Larsen is very familiar with Northwest hydropower, which is important because that committee oversees the Water Resources Development Act for the House, which oversees the US Army Corps of Engineers’ budget.
As for those occupying office for the first time, Washington state’s newly elected Representative for the 3rd District, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, has publicly stated her support for preserving the lower Snake River dams.
Oregon’s new Governor, Tina Kotek, has embarked on a statewide listening tour. Her stance on the lower Snake River dams is not clear at this point, but where she lands on this issue is highly important. The State of Oregon has been a main litigant in federal court against the Federal Columbia River Power System. The motion Oregon made for injunctive relief in 2021, if it had been implemented by the judge, would have jeopardized grid reliability for the region and significantly raised costs for millions of electricity customers. We are hoping Oregon’s new governor takes a different approach.
Ultimately, these newly elected leaders and their staff have a lot of work ahead to familiarize themselves with their constituency to better understand how to represent them.
- Whether your representation in 2023 is new or not, now is one of the best windows of opportunity to make sure your voice is heard. Doing so will shape future policy and help strengthen support for affordable, clean energy from hydropower.
- Did we mention that the moment for this is now? As in, right now? Okay, you’re busy–we get it–but with that heavy rain in the forecast we mentioned earlier, do us a favor and carve out some time to unwind and put together a nice letter. It might even put you in just the right state of mind to strike a polite, yet firm tone…
In Our Opinion...
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