Severe Drought Could Threaten Power Supply in West for Years to Come
The water level at Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir serving the Hoover Dam, fell to 1,068 ft. in July, the lowest level since the lake was first filled following the dam’s construction in the 1930s. This month, the federal government is expected to declare a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering cutbacks in water allocations to surrounding states from the river.
If the water level drops 118 ft. from July’s level, to 950 ft., it would fall below the turbines and the dam must shut down, said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The power declines are significant. At 1,200 ft. water elevation—where it was in the year 2000, when water levels were among the dam’s highest levels—the dam can power up to 450,000 homes. At the current elevation, that figure falls to 350,000.
The California Independent System Operator, or Caiso, which oversees the state’s power grid, last summer resorted to rolling blackouts during a West-wide heat wave that constrained the state’s ability to import electricity. The supply crunch was most acute in the evening, after solar production declined.
- Max Level: 1,229 Feet
- Level in 2000: 1,200 Feet
- Current Level: 1,068 Feet
- Decline Since 2000: 132 Feet
- Drop to Zero Power: 118 Feet
Colorado River Supply
Lake Powell feeds Lake Mead. The Colorado River supplies both.
Lake Powell is part of the Colorado River Upper Basin and Lake Mead is in the Lower Basin.
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