• A stator in the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee.
  • The penstocks above the water at Hoover Dam
  • The top of Shasta Dam in California
  • An automated gate structure on a canal in Washington.
  • An aerial photo of the sunsetting at Ruedi Reservoir in Colorado.


A photo of a rotar being worked on at Grand Coulee Dam in Washington.The Bureau of Reclamation is the largest water supplier in the United States, owning and operating 188 water projects across the western states with dams, reservoirs, canals, diversion dams, pipelines, and other distribution infrastructure. While owning 76 powerplants, it operates 53 powerplants that produce more than 40 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year from 176 generating units. That is enough energy to meet the needs of 3.5 million homes.

This makes Reclamation the second largest producer of hydropower in the United States. However, many opportunities remain at existing Reclamation facilities to produce additional hydropower.

Hydropower is clean, renewable power for federal projects and customers at cost, with nearly $1 billion in revenues being returned to the Treasury each year.

Reclamation powerplants account for 23 percent of hydroelectric generating capacity in the western United States and, when compared with all electric utilities, Reclamation ranks as the 10th largest utility in the United States.

Hydropower generated at Reclamation facilities annually offsets 27 million tons of carbon dioxide. It saves 6.8 million tons of coal or 23.5 million barrels of oil that would otherwise be used to generate an equivalent amount of electricity in fossil-fired powerplants.

Hydropower is a zero-carbon, zero-emission, low-cost source of energy that can be relied upon for long-term, stable production of domestic electricity. Hydropower also provides consistent, reliable generation which can be quickly adjusted and dispatched to meet the various needs of the electric grid.

Recent Efforts and Accomplishments

Developing and revising its hydropower policies to provide increased clarity for its stakeholders, one example of this is our Lease of Power Privilege Directive and Standard that will better define roles, responsibilities, and timelines for private development of hydropower at Reclamation facilities.

Reclamation is in the process of updating policy and guidance for the Reclamation Operation and Maintenance Program in addition to updating the Facilities Instructions, Standards and Techniques (FIST) Manuals.  The changes are intended to ensure all federal assets are being maintained, maintenance work is better documented to ensure the reliability of Reclamation generation stations and federal investment is being managed properly.

Reclamation continues to focus efforts on reliability compliance and develop a strong internal compliance program. 

Reclamation is working on a project to develop and implement a standardized hydro generator optimization system for its facilities. The objective of this system is to provide an increase in the power production efficiency (megawatt hours of electricty per acre-foot of water) at multi-unit plants without using additional water or sacrificing plant reliability. It is envisioned that this optimization system could be deployed across Reclamation power facilities.

Reclamation completed the Site Inventory and Hydropower Energy Assessment of Reclamation Owned Conduits in March 2012, and the Hydropower Resource Assessment at Existing Reclamation Facilities report in March 2011. These reports have identified a total of 564 Reclamation sites with approximately 372 MW of capacity and 1.57 million MWh of annual energy potential.

Reclamation and the Department of Energy announced nearly $17 million in funding for 16 projects in 11 states for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology on Sept. 6, 2011. One project jointly funded by Reclamation and DOE will demonstrate the first Archimedes Screw turbine at a Reclamation site in Washington and will be the first deployment of its kind in the United States. Another project jointly funded by Reclamation and DOE will demonstrate Natel Energy’s 400 kilowatt SLH100 low-head hydropower technology at a Reclamation canal site in Oregon.

Updated: March 19, 2014