Lake Powell water levels reach historic lows

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The water level at Lake Powell has dipped below a point meant as a buffer for hydroelectric power production. For the first time since Lake Powell was filled in the 60s, the water level dropped to 3,525 feet elevation. The dam can still produce electricity down to elevation 3,490, but shallower water reduces pressure and limits the ability for the plant to produce power.

The water elevation drop triggered a provision of the Drought Contingency Plan  to take some additional steps to keep Lake Powell’s levels from dropping even further. If the lake drops 35 feet more, experts say the Dam will no longer be able to generate electricity. Sarah Porter, the Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute, says the newest measurement is “quite concerning.”

The Bureau of Reclamation predicts that snow melt will elevate the lake, but the problem is that we are not having a good year for snow. Dry summers also cause the ground to absorb more snow, meaning that less water will end up in the lake.

“It’s reasonable to expect that lake levels will recover a little bit, but it doesn’t mean we are out of the woods,” Porter said.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Lake Powell’s ability to generate energy in the future, Porter says that many alternative forms of energy are emerging.

The bigger municipal utilities have made provisions for Lake Powell not producing electricity, and are “pretty well covered.” However, smaller rural and tribal utilities depend heavily on energy from Lake Powell and finding alternative energy sources will be more challenging for them, Porter said.

“We’re looking at higher energy costs for people who may or may not be able to afford that,” Porter said.


Sarah Porter, Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute

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