Hydropower is unique in its ability to respond almost immediately to increased energy demand. This is especially useful during energy emergencies as additional generation can be quickly dispatched and delivered to mitigate the effect of rolling outages and stabilize the electric grid. Energy emergencies can occur when supply cannot meet demand and can be due to limitations in generation, transmission or both. They typically occur during extreme weather events, such as heat waves and polar vortexes, and during natural disasters that may hinder access to other forms of electric generation, such as tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes and similar events.

Using federal hydropower to stabilize the grid is a last-resort measure. All other options must be activated and either insufficient or unavailable and outages must be imminent before WAPA can request the generating agencies to provide more hydropower.

Public safety: Sudden changes in river water flows can occur if a hydroelectric dam is called on to quickly generate power. Because these situations evolve rapidly, there may be little advance notice of changing water releases from the dam. If you plan to recreate along a river’s edge below a hydroelectric dam, you are encouraged to stay aware of local and regional weather conditions and take immediate action to protect yourself and your belongings if you notice changes in water flows.

Special precautions for Glen and Grand canyons
Glen Canyon Dam is a key source of emergency hydropower in the West. Those recreating on or along the Colorado River through Glen and Grand canyons should exercise increased caution over the summer as energy demands may cause rapid changes to the river’s flow. Unscheduled fluctuations in water releases may occur without notice. Vessels should be secured to withstand potential changes in water levels and campers should avoid setting camp where a sudden river rise could reach tents or other camping supplies.

Glen Canyon Dam operations remain flexible, as described in the 2017 Operating Criteria for Glen Canyon Dam, to adjust for power system emergencies when existing power generation resources cannot meet electricity demands. Increased water releases usually last one or two hours but could last longer.

As a critical piece of water and power infrastructure for the western United States, Glen Canyon Dam provides reliable energy and operates up to its maximum power plant capacity in response to regional power demands. For more information and current status, visit the Bureau of Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam webpage. ​

Recent emergency uses of federal hydropower

Last modified on May 1st, 2024