The United States Bureau of Reclamation announced this week it will hold back about 480,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell instead of releasing it into Lake Mead—the nation’s largest human-made reservoir that supplies water to about 25 million people. Additionally, about 500,000 acre-feet of water be released into Lake Powell from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is approximately 455 river miles upstream, per the statement.
“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River basin,” Tanya Trujillo, an Interior Department assistant secretary, said in a press conference, per Reuters’ Daniel Trotta. “But the conditions we see today, and the potential risks we see on the horizon, demand that we take prompt action.”
Lake Mead and Lake Powell are part of a system that provides water to more than 40 million people, and water levels in both lakes have dropped to historic lows as the West experiences the most severe megadrought in 1,200 years. Climate change is at least partially responsible, according to a study in Nature Climate Change.
At 3,522 feet, Lake Powell’s water surface elevation is at its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1960s, per a statement. Officials say the lowest level at which Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower is 3,490 feet.
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