#LakePowell is about to drop below a critical level never reached before, as #drought rages on — CNN #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor map March 1, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on the CNN website (Rachel Ramirez):

For the first time since it was filled more than 50 years ago, Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, is projected to dip past a critical threshold, threatening water supplies and putting a key source of hydropower generation at heightened risk of being forced offline, as climate change-fueled drought continues to grip the Western US.

The US Bureau of Reclamation told CNN it is currently anticipating water levels in Lake Powell to reach a significant elevation of 3,525 feet above sea level sometime between March 10 and 16.

Drought contingency plans define the 3,525-foot mark as a significant “target elevation” for the reservoir, under which the situation becomes dire. As of Thursday, Lake Powell had fallen to just over 3,526 feet in elevation, which is just over 24% of capacity and less than two feet away from the critical level.

These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The 3,525-foot target is crucial because it allows a 35-foot buffer for emergency response to prevent Lake Powell from dropping below the minimum pool elevation of 3,490 feet above sea level, the lowest at which Glen Canyon Dam is able to generate hydropower…

Once Lake Powell drops below 3,525 feet, the Bureau of Reclamation would have to release more water from the smaller reservoirs once the spring snow melt dwindles toward the end of the summer, as part of the 2019 Colorado River Drought-Contingency Plan to keep it afloat…

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 2, 2022 via the NRCS.

If future projections show the monthly releases are not enough to protect Lake Powell, the Bureau of Reclamation will need to consider other avenues. At the moment, the agency and the Upper Basin states are continuing to work on a Drought Response Operations Plan, which they expect to complete this April.

But given the rate at which the planet is rapidly warming, Mankin worries about the potential aftermath recovery process: “Then what? Do we go back to kind of normal operations?” he said. “I feel a bit nervous about the fact that the climate is changing, but our management of water is not.”

Climate change’s impacts on water in the West may just be a preview of what’s to come.

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