Lake Powell slowly running dry, experts say

Photos from 2021 and today show how far the lake levels have dropped.

PAGE, Ariz. — Lake Powell is in trouble.

Weather, climate change, low snowpack…it’s all coming together against the lake.

“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,” said Eric Balken with the Glen Canyon Institute.

And that climate data, and the fate of the lake, should concern the millions of people downstream.

Here’s how the Southwest’s water system works:

Water comes down the Colorado River. Along the way, it gets held up in reservoirs; those are like banks.

There are agreements to make sure water comes downstream to the Southwest’s reservoirs. The first one the water hits in Arizona is Lake Powell. Think of it like a savings account for water. It holds a lot, but it’s not the one that directly provides water for drinking and farming.

Lake Mead, at the other end of the Grand Canyon, is the reservoir that directly provides the water. It’s the water checking account; it pays the bills that need paying every day.

From there, the water sits in Lake Mead until it’s drawn through Hoover Dam, generating power and releasing the water.

But now there’s less water than there’s ever been. The Southwest has been in a severe drought for the last 22 years and counting, and this year the lake dropped to its lowest level since the dam was built.

Because of how Lake Powell was formed (by damming a river and backfilling a series of canyons), it’s hard to tell how much the lake has fallen just by looking at it. the water level fluctuates by the day, but photos showing the lake as recently as a year ago tell the story.

The water has changed the entire shape of the lake, especially around the popular Wahweap Marina. Famous rock formations that used to be partially submerged are now far out of the water. Wide stretches of water have now given way to dry plains. Beaches that used to be at water level are now sandy stretches on rock ledges far above the lake.

Antelope Point Marina no longer reaches the lake. the boat launch now ends at a cliff dozens of feet in the air, with a sheer drop to the lake. There are plans to extend it, but no money for it yet.

What that means for the average person is that the lake is slowly running dry. Without being helped by additional releases of water from lakes in northern states, there’s a real possibility that the lake might dip so low that water can’t be released through the dam downstream.

There are contingency plans before that happens, but experts say there needs to be a lot more water conservation done to keep the lake afloat.

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