Reclamation and Hydropower
The Bureau of Reclamation is the second largest producer of hydropower in the country, operating 58 hydroelectric powerplants that generate of over 42 million megawatt hours of energy per year. To put it into perspective, that’s enough energy to meet the annual residential needs of 14 million people and is the energy equivalent of over 80 million barrels of crude oil. Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region operates nine of those 58 powerplants in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Throughout the 20th century, the hydroelectric power generated by Reclamation facilities helped stimulate tremendous growth and opportunity across the West. The clean, inexpensive electrical energy provided by Reclamation’s hydropower facilities have contributed to the modernization and urbanization that exists today and continues into tomorrow.
Reclamation’s history began in 1902 when Theodore Roosevelt signed the Reclamation Act into law. What was then known as the Reclamation Service, was established to plan and build irrigation projects that would conserve and utilize the West’s water and reclaim the arid and semi-arid lands of the American West for settlement and development. Soon after the Reclamation Service came into being, the potential for and benefit of, hydroelectric power generation at Reclamation facilities was recognized and Reclamation’s responsibility was expanded to include hydropower production.
Although hydropower generation began as a by-product of projects planned and built for irrigation, flood control, and river regulation purposes, hydropower development became increasingly more influential in determining the function, benefits, impacts, and scale of Reclamation’s projects. Capturing the energy produced by falling water and converting it to electricity provided necessary power for domestic and industrial users while generating revenues that helped finance larger irrigation projects as part of the comprehensive river basin development. One such comprehensive river basin development was the Colorado River Storage Project.
The Colorado River Storage Project Act, passed on April 11, 1956, marked the beginning of the Upper Colorado River Basin’s ability to develop its apportionments of the Colorado River while assuring the required water delivery to the Lower Colorado River Basin as defined by the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The Act authorized construction of four initial units and the first 11 participating projects, to regulate the flow of the Colorado River, provide water storage for beneficial consumptive use and reclamation of arid and semi-arid land, control floods, and generate hydroelectric power.
Three of the four initial units, Glen Canyon Unit, Flaming Gorge Unit, and the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal), included hydroelectric powerplants. The power generated that is surplus to Reclamation project needs is marketed by the Western Area Power Administration to supply a portion of the electrical energy needed in the states of Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Authorization for the Navajo Unit was limited to a dam and reservoir. The hydroelectric powerplant located at Navajo Dam, constructed by the city of Farmington under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is not a CRSP feature.