The second largest reservoir in the U.S. by total capacity after Lake Mead , Lake Powell spans the Utah/Arizona border, and is an artificial lake created from damming the Colorado River . The water levels in Lake Powell are dramatically lower than they were in 2021, which in turn were lower than they were in 2020.
As of August 10, water levels were measured to be 3,534.51 feet above sea level. At full pool, Powell’s water line lies 3,700 feet above sea level, and at 3,490 feet, it will reach deadpool levels.
Lake Powell is hemmed by the Glen Canyon Dam, which generates hydroelectric power via the dam’s water flowing through the dam back into the Colorado River. If the water levels drop to levels below the intake pipes, the water flow will cease to turn the hydroelectric turbines, and the dam won’t generate any power. Air entering the system would also damage the generators.
Below that is deadpool level, which is where no water flows out of the lake at all, which according to Gus Levy of the Bureau of Reclamation, may cause the Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado River to run dry, reports 12News ABC .
“It’s tough to see,” Levy told 12News. “I’ve been here since 2007 and obviously this is way lower than I’ve ever seen it.”
Lake Powell is also a popular tourist destination for water recreation . With the dropping water levels, this industry is likely to be extremely impacted, as seen by a boating ramp that used to be used to launch boats now having a 50 foot dro p between the end of the ramp and the water.
Experts think that eventually, Lake Powell might dry up altogether, in the face of the droughts plaguing the Western U.S. Over two thirds of the entire country is now in some degree of drought conditions, with the area of state borderland where Lake Powell is situated being classified as in “Extreme Drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
This Statista chart shows the share of the continental United States’ area under different levels of drought between 2018 and 2022.
“Based on the best climate data that’s available, it’s really unlikely that this reservoir is going to be around in the decades to come,” Eric Balken of the Glen Canyon Institute told 12News .
The southwestern states have been gripped by drought for over 22 years, experts say. This drought will only be exacerbated by climate change , as the increased global temperatures are expected to increase the severity of drought weather and frequencies of wildfires , as well as influencing a vast range of other extreme weather events.
“Climate change makes these extreme weather events both more frequent and more severe, ” Matthew Casale, Environment Campaigns Director at non-profit advocacy group PIRG, previously told Newsweek .
“That means that due to climate change, it is more likely that we will see [more] extreme heat waves”.
Down the Colorado River lies Lake Mead, which is also seeing lower water levels than ever before. The Hoover Dam is therefore also at risk of declining hydroelectric power generation as Lake Mead approaches deadpool levels.
In an emergency request issued in June 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urged states relying on the Colorado River basin to reduce their water usage by between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet over the next 18 months.