In California, Water Means Power

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In California, water isn't just water. It’s power too.

"Hydro is such a valuable resource in California," said Andrew Fecko, director of Water Resource Development for the Placer County Water Agency.

The State of California has 287 hydroelectric plants. Among those are a series of generators owned by the Placer County Water Agency.

Springtime would usually mean those plants are running at capacity because right now there should be water in abundance.

But according to Fecko, the Placer County Water Agency is holding on to their water -- saving it for the parched summer months when they know demand for it, and for electricity, will get intense.

At the Ralston powerhouse, turbines aren't spinning.  The electricity usually generated there doesn't serve any customers in specific, but all customers in California. It travels down the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and into California's electric grid.

"In a normal year this project, the middle fork project, generates about enough electricity for a 100,000 homes," Fecko said.

This year, with the turbines frequently stopped, it will only generate about a 1/3 of that.

And that means the state will have to burn more natural gas to produce its electricity.

That also means the Placer County Water Agency will only get a fraction of the $45 million it takes in by selling its hydropower.

"This is the kind of year where you have to dip into reserves so you can keep your operations running," Fecko said.

The lessened water release through the plants means something else, as well. In the summer, there would usually be rafters riding the waters below those plants seven days a week.

This summer, there won't be enough water flow to do that. Expect rafting instead to be available four, or sometimes three, days a week.

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