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Lake Powell's drastic drop in water level shown in clear satellite images

Images from space show just how drastic the drops in Lake Powell's water level has been in the past four years.

LAKE POWELL, Ariz. — They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but these recent photos of Lake Powell are worth so much more. 

Satellite images from the European Space Agency's Earth observation show a significant drop in water levels at Lake Powell between 2018 and 2022. 

Lake Powell, a massive reservoir that millions of people rely on for water and hydropower electricity, dipped to a critical point last month.

The difference is glaring.

RELATED: Lake Powell hits historic low, raising hydropower concerns

The lake's elevation dropped to 1075 m above sea level, its lowest level since the lake filled after the federal government dammed the Colorado River at Glen Canyon more than 50 years ago.

The satellite images show changes of the reservoir near Bullfrog Marina between March 2018 and March 2022. 

The drop comes as hotter temperatures and less precipitation leave a smaller amount flowing through the over-tapped Colorado River.

According to a report from the US Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell lost 7% of its potential storage capacity due to sediments transported by the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. 

These sediments settle at the bottom of the reservoir and decrease the total amount of water the reservoir can hold.

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Though both Lake Powell and its downstream counterpart, Lake Mead, are dropping faster than expected, much of the region’s focus has been on how to deal with water scarcity in Arizona, Nevada and California, not electricity supply.

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For Glen Canyon Dam, the new level is 35 feet (11 meters) above what’s considered “minimum power pool" — the level at which its turbines would stop producing hydroelectric power.

If Lake Powell drops even more, it could soon hit “deadpool” — the point at which water likely would fail to flow through the dam and onto Lake Mead. Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico already are taking a combination of mandatory and voluntary cuts tied to Lake Mead’s levels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Scorched Earth

12 News, along with sister stations across Western states, set out to understand the dire conditions Arizona and other states face as drought and wildfire continue to rage.

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