Since many thermoelectric power plants use water for cooling, the power sector is vulnerable to droughts, heat waves, and other water constraints. At the same time, large water demands for power generation can strain water availability for other users in a river basin. Opportunities exist for power plants to decrease freshwater demands, increasing both drought resiliency of power plants and water availability for other users in the basin. One particular method of decreasing freshwater demands for power plants is by incorporating reservoir storage into cooling operations. Using reservoir storage allows water to be recirculated and reused for power plant cooling, thereby decreasing water withdrawal requirements. Water storage also has the added benefit of making water available during times of shortage.

While storage is known to be beneficial, no tools exist to explicitly quantify the basin-wide water availability impacts and increased power generation resiliency possible via constructing water storage at thermoelectric power plants without existing reservoirs. Here we present the results of modeling efforts regarding the value (both in terms of resiliency and water availability) of reservoir storage for power plant cooling and basin-wide water availability in the Brazos and Colorado River basins, using a customized river basin based-model along with existing Texas Water Availability Models. Results vary between river basins and different water availability models, with construction of new reservoirs generally increasing basin-wide water availability in the Brazos River basin and generally decreasing basin-wide water availability in the Colorado River basin. We conclude that the value of reservoir storage for power plant resiliency and basin-wide water availability is highly site-specific.

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