NASA images reveal that the second-largest US reservoir is shrinking
Lake Powell, the key component of the water system in the western U.S., has been shrinking for the past five years and is currently at its lowest point since 1967, images released by NASA show.
The scorching temperatures during summer and the drying up of European rivers clearly show that climate change is upon us. If global temperatures continue to rise, we can be sure to see more extreme weather phenomena.
Earlier this month, the Earth Observatory at NASA revealed through images the state of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. The lake that provides water to seven states and tribal lands in the U.S., as well as parts of northern Mexico, is close to drying up completely. The recently released images of Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the country, also tell a tale of grim times ahead.
What do the images reveal?
The Earth Observatory shared two images of Lake Powell, one from 2017 and one from 2022, to mark the visible differences in its water levels. Records about the lake already tell us that its water levels, as measured at Glen Canyon Dam, stand at 3,535 feet. This is nearly 98 feet lower when compared to water levels recorded just five years ago.
On August 16, 2017, the water levels at the same site were at 3,633 feet, NASA said in its blog post. Interestingly, 2017 was also the year when water levels were at the highest in the past decade, and within a short period of time, the water levels quickly receded.
The images were captured by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat-8 in 2017 and subsequently by the Operational Land Imager-2 on Landsat-9 in 2022. Although Lake Powell is located at the borders of southeastern Utah and northeast Arizona, the images above only show parts of Utah.
How will this affect us?
According to a graph shared by the Earth Observatory, the lake is now exceedingly close to the minimum power pool elevation level of 3,490 feet. If the water level reduces to this level, the hydroelectric turbines at the dam will no longer be able to generate energy, which could impact roughly 40 million people in the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego, as well as impact water supply to 4-5 million acres of farmland in the Southwest.
After two decades of long-term drought and three years of intense drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), which manages the Colorado River Basin and is responsible for the allocation of water to states, has now been forced to reduce portions that will be allocated next year.
A recent announcement said that the state of Arizona will now receive 21 percent less water, Nevada will receive eight percent less, and Mexico will get seven percent less water next year.
Based on current predictions of inflows, the water levels in Lake Powell are expected to drop to 3,522 feet by January next year. To protect the lake, USBR plans to increase the inflow into the lake from its upstream reservoirs while releasing lesser water downstream. This also means that Lake Mead, which is downstream from Lake Powell, will see less water being released to it.