Considering Climate Change in Hydropower Relicensing



The Regents of the University of California, Davis




Increasing global atmospheric temperatures are expected to alter the timing and magnitude of precipitation and surface water runoff in California, causing major changes to the hydrology of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where 55 percent of the state’s surface water originates and 75 percent of the state’s hydropower generation occurs. These hydrologic changes necessitate changes in how freshwater resources and ecosystems are managed by and for humans. Although climate warming and resulting hydrological alterations are not yet considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as part of hydropower relicensing, it is foreseeable that hydropower projects must change future operations to compensate for changes in runoff caused by a warming climate. This study demonstrates how the latest climate change science can be applied to an important hydropower system in California to better understand the implications of climate change for hydropower licensing policy and practice. It also demonstrates how the modeled climate projections, hydropower system modeling tools, and data analysis methods can be integrated to understand how projected climate changes might affect daily hydropower system operations. Though this study makes many simplifications in operations modeling and system response assessments, it showed that resources exist to include climate change in long-term planning decisions, including during the hydropower licensing process. This is a state-funded research study sponsored by the California Energy Commission.

Climate Impact Tags


Resource Type Tags

Scientific study


Extent: Placer County, Yuba County


Last updated: Jan. 25, 2021