The respective histories of hydropower and irrigation are intertwined in the American West. Over the years, many large irrigation projects have included a significant hydropower component to help finance the costs of construction and provide power to the communities that grew from the introduction of water. Today, smaller, low-head hydro projects around found on irrigation canals across the West. These projects are a testament to the fact that water and power are two foundational components of growth in the West.
In this issue of Irrigation Leader, we talk to managers and leaders about the intersection of hydropower and irrigation. Our cover interview features Les Perkins, general manager of the Farmers Irrigation District in Oregon. While the district is physically small, serving roughly 5,000 irrigated acres, its vision is big. Farmers is breaking the mold of what an irrigation district can do by incorporating the latest hydropower innovations into its infrastructure, management, and operations. The benefits are many. Mr. Perkins states them clearly, “[A]gricultural security, resiliency, and environmental enhancement . . . [I]t boosts the economies of small communities. One hundred percent of the income from the power we generate stays right here in our county.”
Hydropower is a known technology and proven source of renewable energy. That is not lost on irrigation district managers and operators. Carl Brouwer of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District shares the story of his district’s journey to adding two powerhouses to its existing dams. With the necessary infrastructure already in place, the move just made sense. Rem Scherzinger of the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) in Northern California discusses how integral power generation is to his irrigation customers and the stability it provides to a grid that is taking on more and more intermittent power sources. NID is innovating in that respect, looking to create a microgrid to serve emergency services in its region with a reliable power supply.
Elsewhere in this issue, we talk to leaders on the power side of the hydro equation. Leslie James of the Colorado River Electrical Distributors Association weighs in on the value of Glen Canyon Dam to irrigators, power customers, and recreationists alike. Ms. James is a tireless advocate for renewable energy, and she has dedicated her career to a big-picture view of what storage and power generation mean to the tribes and communities that rely on the Colorado River. In addition, Linda Church Ciocci of the National Hydropower Association and Jeanne Hilsinger of Mavel, a turbine manufacturer, weigh in on the policy and technical sides, respectively, of hydropower generation. Finally, Sharon White and Chuck Sensiba of Van Ness Feldman discuss what to expect from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over the next 4 years.
Mr. Scherzinger said it best: “Hydropower has not been given its due for the truly renewable resource that it is.” The leaders that we hear from in this issue remind us of essential role that hydropower has played in the sustained growth of the West.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.