Lake Powell officials face an impossible choice in the West’s megadrought: Water or electricity
Lake Powell, the country’s second-largest reservoir, is drying up.
The situation is critical: if water levels at the lake were to drop another 32 feet, all hydroelectricity production would be halted at the reservoir’s Glen Canyon Dam.
The West’s climate change-induced water crisis is now triggering a potential energy crisis for millions of people in the Southwest who rely on the dam as a power source. Over the past several years, the Glen Canyon Dam has lost about 16 percent of its capacity to generate power. The water levels at Lake Powell have dropped around 100 feet in the last three years.
Bob Martin, deputy power manager for the Glen Canyon Dam, pointed toward what’s called the “bathtub ring” on the canyon walls. The miles of white rock represent this region’s problem.
“That’s where the water has bleached out the rock — and that’s how high the water was at one point,” Martin told CNN.
As water levels decline, so does hydropower production. The dam harnesses the gravitational force of the Colorado River’s water to generate power for as many as 5.8 million homes and businesses in seven states, including Nevada and New Mexico.
Bryan Hill runs the public power utility in Page, Arizona, where the federal dam is located, and likens the situation to judgment day.
“We’re knocking on the door of judgment day — judgment day being when we don’t have any water to give anybody.”
Forty percent of Page’s power comes from the Glen Canyon Dam. Without it, they’ll be forced to make up that electricity with fossil fuels like natural gas, which emits planet-warming gases and will exacerbate the West’s water crisis.
Loss of power at the dam would also mean higher energy costs for customers as the price of fossil fuels skyrockets.
“If nothing changes, in other words, if we don’t start getting some moisture for Page, in particular, we are looking at an additional 25 to 30% in power costs,” Hill told CNN.