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How long before Lake Powell can’t generate hydroelectricity?

Answer: Two years.

The Glen Canyon Dam.
Shutterstock/Alexey Kamenskiy
Just in case you needed any more evidence that the climate crisis has gotten really bad, we’re now learning that a major source of electricity for the Western U.S. and Mexico could be seriously curtailed — or worse — in the next two years. Lake Powell, located in northern Arizona, could become too low on water by 2023 to supply hydroelectricity.

Due to the megadrought currently gripping the West, the lake has already dropped to the lowest level ever recorded. And with no significant end to the drought in sight, it could get a whole lot worse. In recent estimates, the Bureau of Reclamation found that there is a 3 percent chance that Lake Powell’s water level will drop below 3,490 feet next year, and a staggering 34 percent chance that it will do so in 2023.

All effects of climate change are bad, but this one is especially bad because Lake Powell’s water level has to remain at or above 3,490 feet for the hydroelectricity-generating turbines in Glen Canyon Dam to be operational. About 5.8 million households and businesses in the West rely on the hydroelectric power generated by these turbines.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling,” the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan said. “This highlights the importance of continuing to work collaboratively with the basin states, tribes and other partners toward solutions.”
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