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Drought Roils California Energy Landscape

September 4, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

shutterstock_94477597The ongoing drought in California is producing at least one winner: Power companies.

The lack of surface water is causing fruit and vegetable growers to increasingly rely on underground supplies. Accessing these sources – which can be 3,000 feet below the surface — requires much more power than when it is on the surface, according to BloombergBusiness.

Farmers in The Central Valley of the state are using groundwater for about 60 percent of their irrigation needs. About one-third would be from this source during a normal year. That could increase pumping bills by 77 percent – about $600 million. The volume figures are just as impressive: There may be as many as 2 trillion more gallons of water pumped than normal. That is enough water to fill 3.1 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

The hydroelectric power industry also is being impacted by the drought, but not in such a positive fashion. In normal times, snow runoff from the mountains would fill reservoirs and turn turbines. This isn’t happening. The Pacific Institute estimated from October 2011 to September 2014, hydroelectricity accounted for 12 percent of the state’s power. It normally is 18 percent, according to The Hanford Sentinel.

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