The Multidisciplinarity of Hydropower

By Kris Polly

Hydropower is multidisciplinary by nature: It involves civil and electrical engineering, turbine design, and hydrology, but it also touches many fields of law, including environmental and endangered species law, historical preservation regulations, natural resources law, and administrative law. All that means that hydro law is no simple field. In our cover story, we speak with Chuck Sensiba, a partner at law firm Troutman Pepper, which has the nation’s largest hydropower practice, about current issues in hydro law and his advice for aspiring hydro lawyers. 

After California’s Thermalito Pumping-Generating Plant suffered a catastrophic fire in 2012, the process of restoring it intersected with many of these fields. In addition to restoring the plant under hazardous conditions, the California Department of Water Resources aimed to upgrade it to meet new climate change investment goals. 

Meanwhile, a new master’s program in hydro engineering at the University of Toronto (U of T) has hydropower’s multidisciplinarity at its core. We speak with U of T professor Bryan Karney, U of T Waterpower Program Coordinator Sharon Mandair, and Ontario Waterpower Association President Paul Norris about the motivation behind the creation of the new program and what is distinctive about it. 

The Central Utah Water Conservation District recently replaced its historic Olmstead power plant while preserving the original plant in museum form. The complicated water right situation surrounding the Olmstead plant is a good example of how hydropower intersects with water supply and historic water law. 

Finally, we feature a fascinating article by French hydro engineers François Lempérière and Luc Deroo. Mr. Lempérière is well known for coming up with innovative concepts that include fusegates and piano-key weirs. In this article, Mr. Lempérière and Mr. Deroo present several ambitious ideas for how innovative pumped storage facilities and off-river reservoirs can help meet the world’s growing energy storage, water supply, and flood control needs. If adopted, these ideas could signal the beginning of a new golden age of dam building. 

The multidisciplinary nature of hydropower engineering is both what makes it so challenging and what makes it so exciting and rewarding for its practitioners. The stories we feature in this month’s Hydro Leader make that clear. 

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Hydro Leader magazine and the president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at