Lake Powell’s water level has fallen to its lowest level since the US government began filling the huge reservoir on the Colorado River in the 1960s – another sign of the devastation of the western drought.
By Monday, the pool height in Lake Powell, which stretches from Utah to Arizona, dropped to 3,554 feet. (It stood at 3,555 feet on Tuesday.) The water level fell as the American West experienced what scientists call a “mega-drought.”
Too little water is getting into the lake and too much is being diverted downstream to maintain Lake Mead levels, which are also at historically low levels. The two reservoirs, which are among the largest in the United States, are part of a river system that supplies water to more than 40 million people.
The dams that hold water back on the lakes produce hydropower for many western states, and electricity production at Lake Mead’s Hoover Dam fell by about 25 percent during the drought.
Rising temperatures and a lack of precipitation related to climate change in the west have also contributed to the southern portion of Utah’s Great Salt Lake reaching a new low, with further decline expected in the coming months, according to the US Geological Survey will.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation published a 24-month study showing that the amount of water flowing into Lake Powell has declined sharply over the past six months, and predicted a 79 percent chance that Lake Powell would be under 3,525 feet would fall “sometime next year,” which could lead to tighter water restrictions.
At the time, Wayne Pullan, the regional director for the Upper Colorado Basin office, said, “This is a grave situation.”
Brad Udall, senior climate scientist at Colorado State University, was more blunt: “I struggle to find words to describe what we’re seeing,” he said.
The effects of climate change and water use management have resulted in water depletion “off the charts,” he said, comparing the current water restriction measures to a parachute. “I’m worried that the parachute isn’t big enough,” he said, “and that we didn’t deploy it early enough.”