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Hydropower And Water Scarcity: The Growing Climate Risks Of A Climate Solution




Even as a scorching, dry summer fades toward winter, the specter of drought has refused to exit the stage. While drought is defined as a lack of water resources–as typified by the historically low levels of the Mississippi River last month–it can easily metastasize as a lack of electricity. Water is the “fuel” for hydropower, still the leading source of renewable electricity generated on the planet, and drought is like an embargo on that fuel.


Water managers on the Colorado River just warned of a looming “doomsday scenario” where continued drought would halt electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam. That scenario has already arrived for Kariba Dam, the second largest hydropower project in southern Africa, which provides more than half of the electricity used by Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kariba’s reservoir—built in 1959 it is the largest reservoir in the world by volume—is at the lowest level in its history, resulting in extreme power cuts to Zimbabwe and power rationing in Zambia.


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