The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: Western Reservoirs Get Historically Dangerously Low
Dear Diary. Very impressive, large scale infrastructure in the form of dams was built in the early and mid part of the 20th century, which watered big cities of the West and generated electric power for many. Now the entire southwestern area of the U,S. is in jeopardy from a megadrought that engineers from the 20th century didn’t think the West would have to contend with.
Nature usually bats last, and it will be going up against a leaky bullpen with increasingly tired arms constructed for the human southwestern team. It’s probably not a great idea to build large cities within a desert area, nevertheless that’s where the big cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix Salt Lake City, and Tucson are located. All of these cities were constructed from the 19th into the 20th centuries during rainier and cooler times.
Now that the climate is heating up, dams that were thought to more than compensate for occasional dry times are not sufficient to stave off what appears to be inevitable “bone dryness”…or a term I’ll use indicating that a reservoir or man made lake completely evaporates, or dries to the point that it can’t be relied upon for electricity or drinking water.
One such reservoir is Lake Powell, the second largest, next to Hoover Dam in the West. Here is a Gizmodo article describing the current alarming state of that reservoir and Glen Canyon Dam:
Officials Pull ‘Emergency Lever’ as Lake Powell Plunges Toward Dangerous New Low
The West’s second-largest reservoir could be at risk of losing the ability to generate hydropower as officials rush to fill it.
Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona, holding back Lake Powell.Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan (AP)
The latest megadrought alarm bell just went off in the West. The Bureau of Reclamation began emergency water releases from reservoirs upstream in the Colorado River this week in an effort to keep Lake Powell, the country’s second-largest reservoir, full enough to continue to generate hydroelectric power.
The manmade lake, which sits along the crucial Colorado River, has reached the lowest levels it’s been in decades due to extreme heat and the searing drought that’s gripped the region coupled with overuse. The reservoir is projected to hit a critical new low of (1,075 meters) by April 2022, just 25 feet (7.6 meters) above the level at which hydropower can no longer be generated. The Bureau of Reclamation said the emergency releases from reservoirs upstream—which includes the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming, the Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado, and the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico—will continue until December and could last into next year.
The low water levels in Lake Powell aren’t just a problem for the industries and cities that rely on the water in the reservoir. It’s also an issue for the Glen Canyon Dam, a 1,320-megawatt hydroelectric power plant that produces electricity distributed to customers in seven different states. The Bureau of Reclamation said the releases from Flaming Gorge, which will start this month, will increase the water level 50 cubic feet (1.4 cubic meters) per second every day, and will last until July 23.
Glen Canyon Dam isn’t the only hydropower plant facing trouble with the West’s megadrought. The water level at Lake Oroville, California’s largest reservoir, has dipped so low this summer during the state’s searing heat that officials say they may have to shut off the hydropower plant there.
“We are facing unprecedented dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin, Rebecca Mitchell, Upper Colorado River Commissioner for the state of Colorado, told KUNC. “More details about conditions as well as planning efforts are forthcoming. 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.”
Releasing water from upstream reservoirs during a megadrought is a big deal; as a source told KUNC reporter Luke Runyon, “Reclamation just pulled the emergency lever.” The Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people in states across the Southwest. Lake Powell was constructed in the early 1960s, in order to create a reservoir of supply for states along the upper part of the river to deliver water to states in the lower part of the river, as part of the 100-year-old water agreement that dictates how the river’s water is distributed. But historic overuse of the river’s resources paired with climate change—which, studies have shown, could decrease flow by as much as 30% by 2050—has meant that the river’s flow is rapidly diminishing.
The water levels in Lake Powell don’t just affect hydropower, but also how water is distributed throughout the Southwest. Lake Mead, another large reservoir downstream on the river, fell to its lowest levels in history in June. Officials are planning to declare water shortage conditions in August that would trigger water-saving measures in surrounding states. If Lake Powell falls below that crucial threshold of 3,525 feet that it’s set to meet next spring, it could affect how the lower states get their water—and trigger potential lawsuits and fights over who has the right to use water from the river.
In 2019, the seven states that rely on the river entered into a contingency plan for what happens if Lake Powell drops below the threshold. Part of the extreme scenario of this plan was emergency releases from upstream reservoirs, like the type of releases the Bureau of Reclamation has decided to do this month.
If the water levels fall below 3,525 feet in Lake Powell and the agreement falls apart, it could “potentially lead to seven-state litigation, which we’ve never seen before on [the] Colorado River,” Amy Ostdiek, deputy section chief of the federal, interstate and water information section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told Colorado Public Radio. “Which would create a lot of uncertainty. It would probably be a very long, drawn out process.”
Elsewhere, the West’s reservoirs have come under increasing pressure. Satellite imagery shows many in decline year over year. Drinking water quality is suffering, and at least one town has committed to a moratorium on new construction as water resources run dangerously low. Even natural bodies of water such as Utah’s Great Salt Lake haven’t escaped from the megadrought, also dipping to record lows.
Here are some major “ET’s” reported from Saturday:
Here is more climate and weather news from Saturday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)
Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:
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Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”