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The dying of the West: Lake Mead and Lake Powell may not refill “in our lifetimes” warn experts

  Even though the Southwest has seen some good, sustained rains in recent months, the drought conditions that have sunk Lake Mead and Lake P...

 Even though the Southwest has seen some good, sustained rains in recent months, the drought conditions that have sunk Lake Mead and Lake Powell to disastrously low levels are unlikely to resolve “in our lifetimes,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

These two Colorado River reservoirs, which supply water for numerous large cities in Arizona, Nevada, and California, have been dwindling for quite some time now – and they are unlikely to refill any time soon. (Related: Lake Mead and Lake Powell have been headed for collapse for at least a decade.)

Drought conditions obviously contribute to this, but so do increased populations in the cities that rely on water from these two lakes. There are just too many people trying to use too little supply, which is a recipe for disaster.

Lake Mead, located on the Arizona-Nevada border, was filled in both the 1980s and 1990s. It was also nearly full and lapping at the spillway gates in 2000 – though in the 23 years since, its water level has been dropping due to a “megadrought.”

Currently, Lake Mead is about 70 percent empty. And that is unlikely to change any time soon, even if heavy rains were to persist.

The situation is worse upstream at Lake Powell, which is currently 77 percent empty and approaching a point where Glen Canyon Dam is no longer able to generate electricity, resulting in a loss of more than four billion kilowatt hours of energy per year.

“Even with this winter’s above-average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, water officials and scientists say everyone in the Colorado River Basin will need to plan for low reservoir levels for years to come,” the Times reported.

“And some say they think the river’s major reservoirs probably won’t refill in our lifetimes.”

Will the West survive the water wars?

Loss of energy is one consequence of these two important reservoir lakes draining, but so is loss of farming throughout the Southwest. Without the water Lake Mead and Lake Powell provide, farmers all across the Western United States will suffer.

The crisis on the Colorado River right now is so severe that California and six other states are attempting to negotiate a new water agreement – the first in a century – to allocate these scarce resources in such a way as to avoid a total collapse. Will they be successful?

“Lake Mead receives just about the same amount of water every year,” one commenter wrote. “It has been that way since the dam was built. The reason the water level is receding is because more and more water is being taken out of the lake to be used in downstream projects. The water level in Lake Mead has absolutely nothing to do with climate panic.”

“Not just downstream; new residential developments in Las Vegas never wane,” responded someone else. “Twenty years ago, the Vegas metro area had 500,000 people. Today, it is over two million.”

Others pointed out that California, the most populous state in the country, would not be experiencing any water problems if it simply stopped letting fresh water flow unobstructed into the Pacific Ocean.

“They will allow the run-off from the abundant snowpack in the Sierras to do the same in spring,” this person added. “Climate scientists say these winter rains are the new normal. Yet the leaders of California do NOTHING to capture this water from heaven. As a matter of fact, their discussions are how to avoid the flooding that results from abundant rainfall by spending millions of dollars to HELP the water flow out into the Pacific Ocean!”

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