February 4th, 2011

hydrobear

Ready To Do My Part

Yesterday was pretty interesting. The county of Los Alamos who operates a power plant below one of our dams has an agreement that they can generate power whenever our releases are high enough to do so. At this time of year, however, there is almost no downstream demand. Current flows are 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) which is just passing inflow into the reservoir. Due to restrictions we are not able to store that water. Flows need to be almost 200 cfs to generate. Maximum generation is at 1000 cfs. So yesterday afternoon I get a call asking if we could make a release of up to 1000 cfs because there is a crisis. Huh? It turns out that natural gas flow to the state had been greatly curtailed due to a power failure in TX. People with gas heat were switching over to electric space heaters which was putting a strain on the entire power grid. Things got so bad that the governor declared a state of emergency. Of course all of this is happening while the state is experiencing the coldest temps in decades. Not having heat in homes is not just an inconvenience but could be a matter of life and death.

My brain immediately went into overdrive as to how I could pull this off. Of course my first stop was our assistant office manager who I quickly briefed. She called our public affairs person who put out a press release saying flows below the dam could rise sharply without notice. Since temps were -15 at the dam the night before, we doubted there would be any fishermen out there, but you never know! I worked out a scheme where we could borrow water from one user who had water in their reservoir and have it paid back later in the year by another user who had water upstream. It just so happened that my counterpart with that organization was in my office for a meeting. He gave me the green light to use their water. Everything fell into place very quickly. Los Alamos was given the green light to proceed if necessary. My only concern would be the backlash from the fishing/environmental community since it is not very healthy for the river to go from 40 to 1000 and back to 40 in a matter of a couple of days. With lives at risk, however, I doubt people would value a trout more than a human. Knowing some enviros, however, I wouldn't put it past them to think that way.

As of this morning the situation seems to have stabilized and a release was not necessary. It's things like these, however, that make my job so interesting at times!