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Water Shortage in the Western US: An Update

Last June, I wrote a blog post detailing Lake Mead’s falling elevation levels due to an ongoing drought in the West, brought on by global warming. Now, that situation is even worse: falling elevation levels of several bodies of water in the West have created a dire situation. The US has taken especial interest in the Colorado River system, as it provides water to millions of people in the Western US and Mexico, from rural farms and ranches, to native communities. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two lakes flowing from the Colorado River, are two important parts of the Colorado River system, because they are very large reservoirs and are crucial to the nation's water supply.

Lake Mead is the largest artificial reservoir in the US, providing water for millions of people in Arizona, California, Nevada, and even some parts of Mexico. Its elevation levels have dropped so much, the original water intake valves have become exposed for the first time. Currently, a new valve-- for which construction began in 2015 and completed in 2020-- at a much lower location is being used to pump water.

Lake Powell is another large reservoir, and poses another immense issue: the falling water levels are impacting hydroelectric power production at the Glen Canyon Dam. Hydroelectric power from the water flowing through is harnessed at the dam to power roughly 5.8 homes and businesses in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Nebraska. The loss of this hydroelectric power means that power companies have to turn to other energy sources, such as fossil fuels, exacerbating the global warming that has caused the drought. Additionally, energy costs for consumers will rise, as the price of fossil fuels is dramatically rising.

The federal government owns the hydropower because it is produced by water flowing through federally owned dams, so it sells electricity to states at prices much lower than the market price. Because of fears that the dam could stop producing power by January, the government is taking emergency actions. Less water is to be released to downstream states from Lake Powell, cutting the availability of water for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. More than 110 billion gallons of water have been held back this year alone.

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