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Hydropower, America's Leading Renewable Resource

About 20% of the world's electricity is generated through the use of water. In the United States, hydropower accounts for up to ten percent of the nation's supply of electricity. 10% can be thought of in the following ways:



  • Hydropower produces more than 95,000 megawatts of electricity annually, which is enough to meet the needs of about 35 million residential customers in California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
  • Hydropower accounts for over 90% of all electricity that comes from renewable resources (e.g., solar, geothermal, wind, biomass).
  • Hydropower is generated at only 3% of the nation's 80,000 dams.



The most important benefit of hydropower is its provision of clean, renewable energy. And because this energy is produced domestically, it insulates the United States from fluctuating and sometimes dangerous world market and political conditions. Hydroelectricity provides electric generators an important means of regulating the flow of electricity to homes and businesses. Unlike plants that use coal (which is the countries primary resource to generate electricity), hydropower facilities can quickly increase and decrease the amount of electricity being generated. As electric systems must always maintain an exact balance with demand, this peaking ability is very important.

Hydroelectric projects, however, can also provide other vitally important benefits. These may include some combination of flood control, irrigation, navigation, recreation and water supply.

But like any energy resource, there are environmental and other concerns that must be addressed. These concerns include barriers to upstream and downstream fish passage and changes to water quality, habitat condition, or the flow rate of water moving downstream. Millions of dollars in research and mitigation efforts are spent each year to address these concerns. Hydropower is a resource that continues to balance itself within the needs and designs of the environment and people it serves.


Many enhancement and mitigation efforts have met with great success. These efforts are funded both by the federal government and project owners. In addition, there are several federal, state and local agencies that regulate one or more aspects of a project. Many hydroelectric projects were built and managed by the federal government (e.g.-the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation), others are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Many of these licenses are coming up for renewal during the next ten years. In order to receive a new license, owners must examine environmental impacts and include the public in both reviewing and considering mitigation and enhancement strategies regarding such impacts. For anyone interested in the river system, participating in these discussions is vitally important.

Numerous federal and state agencies can also become involved in the process. Examples include: the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, state fish and wildlife agencies, state water resource agencies and the state agency with Clean Water Act authority. Beyond this crisscrossing of government authority are many tribal governments and non-profit groups with significant interests and concerns. Examples of non-profit groups include American Rivers, the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, fishing and hunting associations, and boating groups.

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