Low levels at Lake Powell could trigger downstream cuts

Aug 15, 2013

Sinking water lines at Lake Powell could force drastic cuts to outflow, meaning less water for downstream Lake Mead and impacts to agriculture and electricity production throughout the West.

The federal agency responsible for hundreds of dams in the Western U.S. – the Bureau of Reclamation – is expected to make an announcement in the near future saying the water level at Lake Powell will soon reach an all-time low.

The Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Ariz., supplies a total capacity of 27 million acre-feet of water in Lake Powell.
The Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Ariz., supplies a total capacity of 27 million acre-feet of water in Lake Powell.
Credit Bureau of Reclamation

If the level drops another 17 feet, federal guidelines would require managers to cut Powell's outflow - a move that would affect water levels and electricity generation at Hoover Dam.

Craig Mackey, Co-Director of Protect the Flows – a network of 900 companies that promote healthy river levels - says the Colorado River is over-taxed and that demand already outweighs supply.

"The river is stressed and the river is over allocated," he said Wednesday.

He says the shrinking supply at Lake Powell signals the possibility of a long-term water crisis in the west.

"It is clear that we need to become much more efficient with our water use to adapt to this mathematical reality," he said. " If we don’t, then we will enter into a costly cycle of repeated water shortages and further requests for emergency government funding that will damage our economy."

Mackey says water levels are down at Lake Powell because of a number of factors including poor snowpack and drought. If conditions continue, lower water levels at Lake Mead could also impact municipal water supplies for Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And a lower Lake Powell means less water for farmers in Utah.

As of Aug. 13, Lake Powell's elevation was  3,592 feet and has dropped seven feet since July 5. If the level reaches 3,575 feet, rules would require a reduction in outflow of 750,000 acre-feet of water.