Lake Powell hits historic low, endangering hydropower supply
Grim news flash from the western megadrought: Lake Powell has hit a historic low, potentially endangering the energy supply for millions of folks in the western United States.
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Lake Powell is well known as a recreational area for boaters. But millions of people also rely on its hydropower to provide electricity. Its current level is the lowest since the Colorado River was dammed at Glen Canyon in 1963. The dam — which took seven years to build, cost nearly $300 million and had a 710-foot high dam wall — created Lake Powell.
Hot temperatures and a rain deficit have hurt the already over-tapped Colorado River. Officials knew that the hydropower production could be in danger someday — they just didn’t expect someday to come so soon.
“We clearly weren’t sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly,” said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, as reported by HuffPost.
In spring, Rocky Mountain snowmelt will likely raise the lake’s water levels. But will it rise enough? And what about next year, and the years after?
“Spring runoff will resolve the deficit in the short term,” said Wayne Pullan, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as reported by the HuffPost, “However, our work is not done.” The Bureau of Reclamation has built dams, canals and power plants in 17 western states since beginning in 1902 and continues to manage water resources.
If water at the Glen Canyon Dam falls another 35 feet, it will hit “minimum power pool,” the level at which it will no longer be able to produce hydroelectric power. Even lower is “deadpool,” the point where water would probably stop flowing through the dam and into Lake Mead. About 5 million power customers in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming purchase power from the dam. The boating and tourism industries are also suffering from the megadrought.