Governing the water/energy nexus: Hydropower’s first century in the U.S.A.

Authors: Carl Bauer*, University of Arizona
Topics: Energy, Water Resources and Hydrology, Legal Geography
Keywords: hydropower, water, energy, law, governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Global climate change is increasing tensions in the relationship between water and energy systems, presenting new conflicts for our current governance frameworks. Although some of these problems are unprecedented, the long history of hydroelectric power in law, policy, and political economy may offer some wisdom. Hydropower is a technology whose essence is the close physical relationship between water and energy, specifically electric power. Governing hydropower has had to deal with different laws and policies that have long regulated water and electric power issues as involving separate sectors with distinct natural resources, actors, and political economic contexts. This paper offers a historical review and synthesis of the first century of hydropower in the U.S.A., from the two perspectives of water and electricity law and policy. What have been the different roles of hydropower in the water and electric power sectors over time? I summarize the historical arcs of hydropower from the water angle and then from the electricity angle, arguing that the development of the electric power sector over time has shaped the trajectory of hydropower more than the water sector has. Hydropower was fundamental to the first half-century of electric power and then became increasingly secondary after the 1930s, even as total hydropower generated grew to new heights. In the water sector, this trajectory was reversed. After 1980 hydropower entered a new period of major changes in water, energy, and environmental policies. The paper supports the view that energy tends to drive the water/energy nexus.

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