America’s second largest reservoir, Lake Powell, reaches capacity as low as 33% amid intense drought
Lake Powell, America’s second-largest reservoir, has reached its lowest level since it was first filled fifty years ago amid climate-induced drought and increasing demand for water.
By Sunday, Utah’s reservoir had dropped to about 33 percent capacity at an elevation of about 3,554 feet, according to CNN, citing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The previous low was in 2005.
The rate at which both Lake Powell and nearby Lake Mead in Nevada — America’s largest reservoir — are draining this year has alarmed scientists and officials.
Warnings about water levels at key reservoirs come as more than 95 percent of the western US is experiencing drought.
Lake Powell (pictured June 24), America’s second-largest reservoir, has hit its lowest level since it was first filled 50 years ago during a climate-induced drought
Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both fed by the Colorado River watershed, are critical sources of drinking water and irrigation for many of the region’s residents, including farms, ranches and indigenous communities.
The water that flows along the Colorado River fills the two reservoirs, which are located along a river system that supplies water to more than 40 million people in seven western states and Mexico.
Scientists at the US Geological Survey published a study in 2020 that showed that the river’s flow has decreased by about 20 percent over the past century.
More than half of that decline can be attributed to global warming in the basin, the study concluded.
While Lake Powell may not be the larger of the two major reservoirs, John Fleck of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico told CNN it still plays an important role in the growing water crisis in the West.
“The bottom failure on Lake Powell is perhaps the greater challenge, because a buffer in Lake Powell allows you to move water into Lake Mead to make up for the shortfalls,” Fleck told the network.
By Sunday, Utah’s reservoir (pictured June 24) had fallen to about 33 percent capacity at an elevation of about 3,554 feet. The previous low was in 2005
The rate at which both Lake Powell (pictured June 24) and nearby Lake Mead in Nevada — America’s largest reservoir — have drained this year has alarmed scientists and officials.
More than 95 percent of the western US is currently experiencing drought, the largest area since the US Drought Monitor was created, and more than 28 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought, the most severe level.
The drought is drying up lakes in the West and exacerbating massive wildfires in California and Oregon. Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, has begged people to cut grass and “pray for rain.”
Extreme conditions like these are often the result of a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns that are amplified by long-term human-induced climate change.
Scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms, and climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years.
If Lake Powell is expected to drop below 3,525 feet (just 29 feet below its current level), the Bureau of Reclamation may discharge more water to the lake from upstream reservoirs under the 2019 Colorado River Drought-Contingency Plan.
Pictured: A map showing the route of the Colorado River and the locations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, as well as the Blue Mesa Reservoir that can be used to replenish Lake Powell
Such emergency releases will begin in August, with the Blue Mesa Reservoir in southwestern Colorado expected to be one of the others.
Water is not the only resource that could be scarce due to falling water levels. As with Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, the lower levels also threaten Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower production for many states, including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska.
To compound the problems, if the next major study from the Bureau of Reclamation in August shows an even worse drop in water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the first-ever Colorado River deficit statement could be issued.
This would mean that many communities would have to shut down their water supplies next year.
“Over time, cities will have to conserve more and more water,” Fleck said, “and it won’t get any easier with climate change.”
Meanwhile, authorities said they have found the body of a third person who died during floods and mudslides in an area of northern Colorado burned by a massive wildfire. One person is still missing.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office was notified Monday that a man’s body was found in the Poudre River, a day after another man was found dead in the waterway.
Lake Powell (pictured) and Lake Mead, both fed by the Colorado River watershed, are critical sources of drinking water and irrigation for many of the region’s residents, including farms, ranches and indigenous communities.
Pictured: In this aerial view, the high bleached ‘bathtub ring’ is visible on the rocky shores of Lake Powell on June 24, 2021
On Tuesday, a woman’s body was found near the small community of Rustic, about 160 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Denver, shortly after a mudslide sent a wave of debris into the scenic, winding Poudre Canyon.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family who tragically lost four members in last week’s flood,” said Sheriff Justin Smith.
Six homes were destroyed and another was damaged, all on the same road, the sheriff’s office said.
The floods and shifts occurred in an area burned down last year by the 844-square-mile Cameron Peak Fire, the largest in Colorado’s history.
Burns flares of vegetation that usually help absorb rain and keep the ground stable, making those areas more vulnerable to flooding, especially in steep sections. The soil in burned areas can also repel rain.
Extreme temperatures, low humidity, gusty winds and rough terrain contributed to the fire’s rapid growth, the first to spread in the state to about 313 square miles (811 square kilometers), according to federal fire managers.
A large number of trees killed by beetles and affected by the drought also fueled the growth of the fire, according to their final summary.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and frequent extreme weather such as floods and droughts and events such as wildfires.
But more research is needed to determine how much global warming is causing, if at all, a single event.