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Simulating High-Elevation Hydropower with Regional Climate Warming in the West Slope, Sierra Nevada

  • D. E., Rheinheimer
  • Joshua Viers
  • Jack, Sieber
  • Michael, Kiparsky
  • Vishal K., Mehta
  • Scott T., Ligare
Published Article
Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management
American Society of Civil Engineers
Publication Date
Apr 30, 2014
DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)WR.1943-5452.0000373
Center for Watershed Sciences John Muir Institute of the Environment


Water systems in snowmelt-dominated hydro-regions such as California\textquoterights Sierra Nevada mountains are sensitive to regional climate change, hydropower systems in particular. In this study, a water resources management model was developed for the upper west slope Sierra Nevada to understand the potential effects of regional climate warming on hydropower at the watershed scale, a scale that has been largely neglected but is important for hydro-regional planning. The model is developed with the Water Evaluation and Planning system (WEAP) and includes most water management infrastructure in the study region. Hydropower is simulated assuming historical long-term electricity demand and a spill minimization rule. The method is suitable for simulating generation for most of the main watersheds in the region. To assess the potential effect of climate warming, uniform air temperature increases of 0\textdegreeC, 2\textdegreeC, 4\textdegreeC, and 6\textdegreeC were considered, with no change in precipitation, to approximate regional warming through 2100. The highly productive northern Sierra Nevada sees large reductions in hydropower generation with decreases in annual runoff. The central watersheds see less reduction in annual runoff and can adapt better to changes in runoff timing. Generation in southern watersheds, which are less productive, decreases. Results from this study can help identify which watersheds might easily adapt to climate change, where hydropower is likely to conflict with other uses, and where more detailed operational studies are needed.

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