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Historical Vignettes

National Hydroelectric Power Resources Study

The energy crisis of the 1970s prompted Americans to identify alternatives to fossil fuels. IWR contributed to this effort with the National Hydroelectric Power Resources Study (NHS), which was designed to help the U.S. meet the goals of energy efficiency and environmental quality. Authorized by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1976, the NHS was led by IWR personnel with contributions from HEC and Corps field offices. Its mandate was to assess the potential for increased hydropower generation, analyze policymaking related to hydropower planning and determine the viability of developing new hydropower sites.

NHS researchers prepared an inventory of the Nation’s existing hydroelectric resources and identified potential for increased capacity. In 1983, the team published a 23-volume report that also included projections of hydropower demands through the year 2000 and the socioeconomic, environmental, institutional and policy issues surrounding hydropower development. The study identified nearly 2,000 potential hydropower sites in different regions of the United States and identified 261 Corps dams with the ability to produce additional hydroelectric power. The report suggested sites for further feasibility studies and acknowledged the importance of environmental sensitivity and public participation to the planning process.

The NHS fulfilled a contemporary need, and it highlighted IWR’s ability to conduct large-scale, national studies. The National Hydroelectric Power Resources Study was the first comprehensive assessment of existing and potential hydropower resources in the US. Its findings responded to the Nation’s requirement for greater information about renewable energy sources. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that the flexibility and capability of the Institute were important elements for engaging with multiple agencies and interest groups and conducting nationwide assessments.