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Officers pull ‘Emergency Lever’ when Lake Powell rushes to New Low

Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona, overlooking Lake Powell.

Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona, overlooking Lake Powell.
Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan (AP)

The last one megadrought the alarm bell rang only in the West. The Bureau of Claims has begun releasing emergency water from the reservoirs upstream in the Colorado River this week in an effort to keep Lake Powell, the country’s second largest reservoir, full enough to continue generating hydroelectric power.

The artificial lake, located along the crucial Colorado River, has reached its lowest levels in decades because of the extreme heat and scorching drought that has gripped the region combined with excessive abuse. The reservoir is expected to reach a new critical low of (1,075 meters) by April 2022, just 25 feet (7.6 meters) above the level at which hydropower can no longer be generated. The Claims Office he said emergency release from upstream reservoirs – which includes the Flaming Gorge Reserve in Wyoming, the Blue Mesa Reserve in Colorado, and the Navajo Reserve in New Mexico – will continue through December and could last next year .

Low water levels in Lake Powell are not just a problem for industries and cities that rely on water in the reservoir. It is also a problem for the Glen Canyon Dam, a 1,320 megawatt hydroelectric plant which produces electricity distributed to customers in seven different states. The Bureau of Claims said the releases from Flaming Gorge, which begin this month, will increase the water level by 50 cubic feet (1.4 cubic meters) per second each day, and will last until July 23rd.

The Glen Canyon Dam is not the only hydroelectric plant facing problems with the megadrought of the West. The water level in Lake Oroville, California’s largest reservoir, dropped so low this summer during the state’s scorching heat that officials say it may have shutdown at hydroelectric power plant there.

“We are facing unprecedented dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado River’s top commissioner for the state of Colorado. said KUNC. “More details on the conditions and planning efforts are to come. What we do know is that the Upper Basin Drought Containment Plan requires greater coordination and planning in situations like this. And those agreements call on the Bureau of Claims to consult closely with the states of the upper basin, including Colorado. It’s never been more critical to work together. ”

The release of water from the reservoirs upstream during a megadrought is a big deal; as a source he said KUNC journalist Luke Runyon, “The Complaint has just pulled the emergency lever.” The Colorado River supplies drinking water to 40 million people in southwestern states. Lake Powell was built in the early 1960s, to create a supply reservoir for the states along the upper part of the river to deliver water to the states in the lower part of the river, in the framework. of the 100-year water agreement that dictates how river water is distributed. But the historical overuse of river resources accompanied by climate change – which, studies have shown, could decrease flow by 30% in 2050 – meaning the river flow decreases rapidly.

Water levels in Lake Powell affect not only hydraulic energy, but also how water is distributed throughout the Southwest. Lake Mead, another large river valley reservoir, it has fallen to its lowest levels in history of June. Officials are expected to declare water scarcity conditions in August triggering water-saving measures in surrounding states. If Lake Powell falls below this crucial 3,525-foot threshold that is set to meet next spring, it could influence how the lower states get water – and trigger potential lawsuits and fights over who has the right to use the water from the river.

In 2019, the seven river-based states are entered into a contingency plan for what happens if Lake Powell falls below the limit. Part of the extreme scenario of this plan was emergency releases from the mount tanks, such as the type of releases that the Bureau of Reclamation decided to make this month.

If water levels fall below 3,525 feet in Powell Lake and the agreement breaks down, it could “potentially lead to a seven-state dispute, which we’ve never seen before in [the] Colorado River, ”said Amy Ostdiek, deputy head of the federal, interstate and water information section of the Colorado Water Conservation Council on Colorado Public Radio.“ That would create a lot uncertainty. It would probably be a very long process, pulled out. “

Elsewhere, Western tanks have come under increasing pressure. Satellite images show a lot in it fall year over year. The quality of drinking water suffers, and at least one city is committed to it moratorium on new construction as water resources are dangerously low. Even natural bodies of water, such as Utah’s Great Salt Lake, have not yet escaped megadrought. dive to record lows.

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