Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lakes Powell and Mead dry by 2021 - Odds: 50/50

It's way beyond a slim possibility. Fifty percent odds make for an appreciable risk. This was the finding of a study by Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. To reduce those odds, cities, farmers and industry that rely on water from the Colorado River had better change their water use habits immediately. Not to mention the loss of electricity generated by the lost water.

The results underscore the importance of water-conservation measures that many communities throughout the region are putting into place. Other studies, some dating back nearly 20 years, have projected that Lake Mead could fall to virtually useless levels as climate warmed, but they lacked a sense of the timing. The new results, the Scripps scientists say, represent a first attempt to answer when lakes Mead and Powell would run dry, squeezing water supplies in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico.

"We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it is coming at us," notes Tim Barnett, a research physicist at Scripps who led the effort. By "dry," the team means that water levels fall so low behind the Hoover and Glenn Canyon Dams that the water fails to reach the gravity-fed intakes that guide it through turbines or out through spillways. In addition, the report estimates that the lakes stand a 50 percent chance of falling to the lowest levels required to generate electricity by 2017.

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