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Glen Canyon Dam power generation could be threatened next year

Posted at 10:54 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 00:54:23-04

PAGE, Ariz. — New data projections show that Lake Powell could shrink to levels so low next year, it would threaten hydro-electric power generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

While hearing that Lake Powell continues to dry up is nothing new, Utah Water Research Laboratory Director David Tarboton at Utah State University explained the study that came out shows the chances of getting down to that level are higher than previously estimated.

"It tells us that we are actually in a fairly severe situation," Tarboton said. "If the water goes below that minimum power pool, electricity generation would stop."

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released the projections, and estimates that Lake Powell could hit what's called minimum power pool-- the elevation needed to generate power at Glen Canyon Dam-- as early as July of 2022.

READ: With low water levels at Lake Powell, officials warn of delays for boaters

Tarboton used the word "catastrophic" to describe the potential for Lake Powell to dip below minimum power pool.

"I think that there will be a scramble to renegotiate, revisit and reprioritize. That's effectively a societal question, about what is most important," Tarboton said. "And I think the economic ramifications of no longer generating power would probably carry a huge amount of weight."

In an email to Fox 13, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson said it's possible they'd implement a drought response plan.

Tarboton explained it's like handling a bank account. Options for deposits include borrowing water from other reservoirs like Flaming Gorge, or hoping that snowpack deposits enough to keep Lake Powell from hitting critical levels.

Water managers also look at withdrawals, including to farmers for irrigation in states downstream.

"Looking at it like a bank account is a good thing," he said. "A lot of the plans are made for which crops we irrigate, how much irrigation water is allocated. Because farmers need to know whether to plant or not."

WATCH: Group calls plans to boost Lake Powell levels a 'Band-Aid'

Gene Shawcroft, Utah Commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission called the situation "dire."

"It's unprecedented territory," he said.

"We are in discussions, even as late as today, with the Bureau of Reclamation to develop a plan that would be implemented depending on what the water year looks like next year," he said, in a phone interview on Tuesday.

He indicated that one huge factor going into next summer, will be this winter's snowpack. The drought has dried up that particular 'bank' deposit over the past 20 years.

WATCH: Shrinking shoreline exposes shipwreck at Lake Powell

But with how wet this fall has been already, Shawcroft had hope it will help the minimum power pool should that cold, wet weather continue.

"Absolutely, it would make a big difference," he said.

They won't know until spring, how things are looking.

"We look at what's in the snowpack on April 1st," Shawcroft explained. "And that's really the time then that we get the best forecast, based on what water is in the snow at that point.