PAGE, Ariz. — New predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that Lake Powell's water levels may fall below the level needed to produce power as soon as July 2023.
The Bureau of Reclamation issues two-year predictions for the water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and revises those predictions every few months. It uses multiple projections to come up with expected, worst, and best probable outcomes.
One of those projections shows that water levels at Lake Powell could fall below what's called minimum power pool, the lowest level that would still allow the power plant in the dam to produce power in only seven months.
Taking the average of those predictions, the Bureau shows it's more likely that, in a worst-case year, the lake falls to that level by December of 2023 and stays there until May of 2024. That would mean the power plant would not be functional for five months.
The projections for Lake Mead show the water level staying above the minimum power pool for the next two years but shows the water levels still falling dramatically.
“They could get there in the coming year, certainly in the next two years," said Sarah Porter with ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy and a water expert. "So it's imperative that we take action to leave water in the system.”
While Lake Mead's water levels should remain safely above the minimum power pool level, Lake Powell's dropping levels add an extra layer of concern for both reservoirs.
Lake Powell's water is much colder at the bottom than at the top. Releasing cold water into Glen Canyon could shock the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon downstream, experts believe.
There's a level below the minimum power pool called "deadpool," which is the lowest level that water can pass through the dam. If the water drops below deadpool, there are concerns the water might stop completely. Glen Canyon Dam has outlet tunnels below that level, but they're untested for that purpose.
And if the water can't flow downstream, there's no water to replenish Lake Mead.
Porter says there have to be even more cuts to the amount of water the Western states take from the Colorado River.
"Cities will probably have to turn to other supplies that they have to replace Colorado River water," she said.
Luckily, Porter said Arizona cities have been building a portfolio of water from multiple sources and should be able to weather the drought for a while.
Arizona agriculture, however, has already taken the biggest cuts to Colorado River water, and those cuts are not likely to be rolled back.
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