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Federal agencies prepare hydro system to meet Northwest US power demand

Due to an impending power shortage, Bonneville Power Administration is set to increase generation at nearly all of its federal dams, even though this may cause some projects to operate outside limits imposed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as additional water is released for generation from upstream reservoirs.

ESA requires that water stored in reservoirs be released in the spring to assist downstream migration of juvenile salmon. BPA manages the storage to ensure that enough water is available to meet both electrical generating requirements and flows for salmon. However, in emergency conditions, BPA has the authority to exceed guidelines of the biological opinion.

BPA’s announcement came following a call by the Regional Emergency Response Team and Northwest governors to conserve electricity, as arctic air flowed into the region bringing in unusually cold weather from 9 December. BPA officials said that the step was taken in order to ensure heavy demand for electricity could be met in the region throughout the cold spell.

BPA supplies about 40% of the region’s electricity, most of it generated at dams in the Columbia river basin.