The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced today steps to keep hundreds of billions of gallons of water stored in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell.
The measure aims to hold back about 480,000 acre-feet of water in the lake for the Glen Canyon Dam, which produces hydropower for about five million customers across seven states in the region.
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Located on the Utah-Arizona line, Lake Powell is one of many areas in the western US plagued by severe and prolonged drought.
Keeping the water stored in the reservoir will stave off hydropower concerns for at least 12 months, giving officials time to strategize how to operate the dam, which is currently at record-low water levels. The lake currently holds less than one-fourth of its full capacity.
“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River basin, but conditions we see today and the potential risks we see on the horizon demand that we take prompt action,” Tanya Trujillo told the local Fox news station, the bureau’s assistant secretary of water and science.
Farms in central Arizona that rely on the Colorado River are already facing mandatory cuts in water usage. But today’s move by the Bureau of Reclamation will not have any immediate impact on the amount of water allocated for the region’s cities, despite the fact there is less water flowing through the river than is consumed by the region’s cities and farms.
The decision means more uncertainty and concern for boating and recreation industries that rely on consistent reservoir levels to operate infrastructure like docks. Unless officials implement drastic conservation measures in the near future, demand for water will overtake supply.
The Bureau of Reclamation announcement came after months of talks between upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — and their lower basin counterparts in Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico, which are already taking mandatory and voluntary cuts.