LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Electricity generated at Glen Canyon Dam will continue without interruption as officials announced the decision on Tuesday to keep more water in Lake Powell.
The extra water for Lake Powell will keep the lake level about 16 feet higher, ensuring continued power production by the dam’s turbines.
But it will mean Lake Mead will drop lower than it would have with normal water releases upstream. Officials estimated earlier this year the move would mean an extra 7-foot to 8-foot drop for Lake Mead. Water officials who manage water supplies said in April that the drop would not threaten water supplies for Las Vegas.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation floated a plan in April to keep 480,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell rather than letting it flow to Lake Mead. A news release on Tuesday indicates that 350,000 acre-feet have already been held back, and another 130,000 acre-feet will be retained by the end of September.
An additional decision was announced today to take 500,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah, about 455 miles upstream from Lake Powell on the Green River.
“Today’s decision reflects the truly unprecedented challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and will provide operational certainty for the next year. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must continue to work together to reduce uses and think of additional proactive measures we can take in the months and years ahead to rebuild our reservoirs,” said Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo.
“Reclamation applauds the quick response and support from across the Basin for these actions,” said Reclamation Acting Commissioner David Palumbo. “As we focus on these short-term response actions, we recognize the importance of simultaneously planning for the longer-term to stabilize our reservoirs before we face an even larger crisis.”
The “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead is a stark reminder of the severity of the drought, which began about 20 years ago. As the lake level continues to drop, the lake has revealed other sights unseen for decades. The top of Intake No. 1 — the uppermost pipe in the lake for taking drinking water for the Las Vegas valley — poked above the lake’s surface in recent weeks. And over the weekend, authorities discovered a barrel with a body in it. Early evidence indicates the barrel was dumped more than 30 years ago.
“The West is experiencing a historic drought, fueled by climate change,” Trujillo said. “This funding opportunity and the WaterSMART Program as a whole are part of the Department’s strategy to tackle the short- and long-term challenge of climate change by improving water use and supply efficiency, sustainability, and reliability.”
Water officials in Southern Nevada have repeated the importance of conservation, which helped offset growth in water demand in the Las Vegas valley over the past years.
Officials had expressed concern about the damage that might be done if Lake Powell dropped so low that Glen Canyon Dam’s power generation stopped. Infrastructure in the dam could have been damaged to the point that it would interfere with future water releases, officials said.
The current level at Lake Mead is just over 1,054 feet. In August, when the federal government declared a water shortage in the west following years of drought, the lake was at 1,067.8 feet. The lake level is expressed as an elevation, not depth: the surface of Lake Mead is now at 1,054 feet above sea level.