Lake Powell could lose the ability to create hydropower in just 2 years

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A boat sails the waters of Lake Powell on June 24, 2021 in Page, Arizona.  As severe drought hits parts of the western United States, below-average water flow is expected to flow through the Colorado River Basin in two of its largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead .

Lake Powell.
Photo: Justin sullivan (Getty Images)

Thanks to the drop in water levels caused by the mega-drought, there is a one in three chance that Lake Powell will fall below a critical threshold in the years to come. If so, it would reduce hydropower production in the second largest reservoir in the West.

Lake Powell already has dived to its lowest level on record while the West has been in the throes of a mega-drought. Pprojection of the Bureau of Reclamation show that things could get even more dire in the years to come, impacting millions of people across the West. At full capacity, the The Glen Canyon dam that holds back Lake Powell produces enough hydroelectricity to power 5.8 million households and businesses in the West.

But for the turbines to keep spinning, the water elevation of Lake Powell must be equal to or greater than 3,490 feet (1,064 meters). There is a 3% chance that it will fall below that threshold next year, and an astonishing 34% chance that it will do so in 2023.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling,” said Wayne Pullan, regional director of the Upper Colorado Basin of the Bureau of Reclamation, in a declaration. “This underscores the importance of continuing to work collaboratively with basin states, tribes and other partners to find solutions.”

Nearby, Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is also under siege. In June, the lake fell to its lowest level since the 1930s. The Bureau predicts that there is a 66% chance that Lake Mead will drop below 1,025 feet (312 meters) in 2025. This is a critical threshold that would trigger a Level 3 water shortage, resulting in severe water restrictions for millions of residents of western states and Mexico. Drought has already put an end to hydropower production in at least one dam in California, leading the State to light five temporary natural gas plants to fill the gap. It will increase carbon and methane emissions.

Lake Powell the figures arrive one month after the USBR emergency water releases reservoirs up the Colorado River in an effort to keep Lake Powell sufficiently full to continue generating electricity. Officials also said last month that the First water shortage for the Colorado River, triggering reductions in water use that have largely affected Arizona farmers. Falling water levels don’t just threaten hydropower production. They also jeopardize access to clean water for the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River and the ecosystems in the seven states of its basin.

A number of factors have fueled this Western water crisis. One is the Colorado River over-allocation, and the other is inefficient use of water that has prioritized industry over ordinary people. (The natives obtained the shorter end of this stick.) Population growth and uninterrupted urban development in the arid West have put additional pressure on the water supply. VSBasically, the climate crisis has also played a major role. The West has been in a state of climate change mega-drought for decades.

“We built this system as an abundance system. We thought that whenever we ran out of water, we could just tap into another river, another lake, another place, or the system would produce enough water to meet our needs, ”Newsha Ajami, director of the urban water policy at Stanford Water University in the West program, said Earther in July. “The reality is that we realize that there is no such thing as abundance. Climate change exacerbates the problems of the system. “


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