Micro Hydro & Hydro Parks

Micro Hydro & Hydro Parks

Morning Buzz by Kirsten Wyatt

What I’m Reading: Slightly South of Simple

What I’m Watching: UnReal

What I’m Listening To: Songs in the Key of Life

TL;DR: I love the micro hydro and hydro park concepts – in fact, both of these examples would be perfect submissions to the #WaterYouWaitingFor outreach and information sharing program!


My Morning Buzz contribution is about two local gov water concepts that I find positively fascinating and want to share with your cities and counties.

Since I was little, I’ve loved hydropower. Maybe it’s a result of growing up in the dam Pacific Northwest, or maybe it’s the result of parents who took my sister and I on power facility tours when we were on family vacations.

The power of a river and the resulting energy it creates (plus the fascinating history and economic impact of damming rivers, the devastating impact on Native American communities and the environmental impacts) are all fascinating topics to me.

Trevor Johnston in Popular Science

Hydropower can now be harnessed at the municipal level through micro hydro projects. Micro hydro generators are the size of a keg and they fit in existing water pipes.

The power of the water flow spins the egg-beater-like blades (clearly this is a simplified description of a generator) to generate power for the water system.

Obviously, harnessing gravity is the preferred method for micro hydro, but even in situations where water is pumped, the resulting energy generation can actually pay for the energy costs for the pump. How cool is that?

Here are some more cool facts from this article about the City of Portland, OR micro hydro projects:

Torrents of water rush beneath cities all over the world; in Portland’s case, they move at an average rate of 39,000 gallons per minute. [Micro hydro] harnesses that energy with a system that’s striking in its simplicity.

The only technology inside the water pipes are five-bladed spherical turbines, 42 inches in diameter, made of stainless steel and composite fiber. Most of the other parts—seals, bearings, grid connections—sit outside them.

“The whole system is designed so water delivery is never disrupted. Turbines installed in water pipes also come with no environmental costs. It’s a sharp contrast to hydroelectric dams, which can kill fish and harm other wildlife.”

The other idea that I love are hydro parks. This concept introduces the public to water facilities as public spaces. Again, looking at the City of Portland, they’ve converted all of their water facilities into public green spaces.

Not only are these great opportunities for community members to learn about their water and wastewater systems, it’s also a chance to broaden the green footprint in a community. Here’s more from the city of Portland about their decision to open up these sites:

Most facilities had previously been off-limits to local residents with fences surrounding the property, and were located in park-deficient neighborhoods. 

While it may be counterintuitive, opening the fences on these sites has actually increased their security, since community members now visit and care for these sites.

Cities are also doing some really cool things to make wastewater sites accessible (if not a little stinky). Recently, Kent and I took our kids on a walk around the Cannon Beach Wastewater Facility. It was lovely!

And, it prompted conversations about conservation, infrastructure, and city services. I get that we’re probably more nerdy than most, but it illustrated how opening up our infrastructure facilities (when safe and smart) is yet another way to engage our community members in the important work that cities, counties, and special districts do every day.