State of Emergency at Lake Powell: Fears of Hydroelectric, Water Shutoffs Increasing

July 19, 2021 Updated: July 19, 2021

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Western states’ water and power systems, said it recently released emergency water reserves from reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell—the second-largest reservoir in the United States.

The agency’s regional director, Wayne Pullan, said that emergency releases from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir will bolster Lake Powell’s water levels so Glen Canyon Dam can continue to generate power.

“Unlike an earthquake or a fire or a hurricane, it’s not an imminent emergency, but it’s been an emerging situation over many years,” Pullan told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Because of the way this has emerged over the years, we’ve been able to have this agreement in place and to be ready to act. There’s been no declaration of emergency. We consider this a response to an emerging, very difficult situation.”

Other than Flaming Gorge Reservoir, located in Wyoming and Utah, two other reservoirs upstream from Lake Powell will also be tapped to provide water. According to the paper, Lake Powell—a manmade body of water that spans Utah and Arizona—covers about 74,000 acres today when it normally covers 165,000 acres.

“We are facing unprecedented dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin. More details about conditions as well as planning efforts are forthcoming,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Upper Colorado River Commissioner for the state of Colorado, according to KUNC. “What we do know is that the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan calls for increased coordination and planning in situations like this. And those agreements call for the Bureau of Reclamation to closely consult with the Upper Basin States, including Colorado. It has never been more critical to work together.”

Nearly all of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico are under severe drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website.

Pullan noted that water-sharing agreements that were established about 100 years ago force the Bureau of Reclamation to constantly release water from Lake Powell downstream to satisfy water shares in California—also under a drought—as well as Nevada and Arizona.

“Here we are now in 2021, and the basic underlying assumptions that we’ve been able to rely on are beginning to erode and we can’t count on the hydrology. And when we can’t count on the hydrology we can’t count on the hydropower and hydropower revenues,” Pullan told the Tribune. “We’re really in a new era.”

And Amy Ostdiek, deputy section chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that if Lake Powell’s water levels fall below the level mandated by the interstate agreement—which is 3,525 feet—it may “lead to seven-state litigation, which we’ve never seen before on [the] Colorado River.”

“Which would create a lot of uncertainty. It would probably be a very long, drawn-out process,” she told Colorado Public Radio.

The Epoch Times has contacted the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for comment.