Bob Martin, deputy director of energy for the Glen Canyon Dam, pointed out the so-called “bathtub ring” on the canyon walls. Miles of white rock are the problem for this area.
“This is where the water bleached the rocks – that’s how high the water at some point,” Martin told CNN.
As water levels drop, so does hydroelectric production. The dam uses the gravitational force of the waters of the Colorado River to power up to 5.8 million homes and businesses in seven states, including Nevada and New Mexico.
Brian Hill runs the Public Energy Facility in Page, Arizona, where the Federal Dam is located, and likens the situation to doomsday.
“We are knocking on the door of Judgment Day – Judgment Day is when we don’t have any water to give to anyone.”
Forty percent of Paige’s power comes from the Glen Canyon Dam. Without it, they would have to replace that electricity with fossil fuels like natural gas, which emit gases that are warming the planet and exacerbating the water crisis in the West.
The loss of energy in the dam may also lead to higher energy costs for customers as the price of fossil fuels rises.
“If nothing changes, in other words, if we don’t start to get some moisture for Page, in particular, we’re looking at an additional 25 to 30% in energy costs,” Hill told CNN.
Arash Mwalemy, deputy general manager of the Navajo Authority for Tribal Facilities, told CNN that losing power at Glen Canyon Dam would be devastating to the Navajo community.
“We have an unemployment rate of 40%, and our per capita income is just over $10,000,” Al-Moualami said. “Rising energy prices may mean that some people are unable to heat or cool their homes.”
The federal government—which technically owns hydroelectric power that flows through federally managed dams—sells electricity to states at a price well below the commercial market price. In a worst-case scenario, the Interior Ministry expects the dam to stop producing power by January.
The agency is now considering emergency action that would buy the dam more time.
More than 110 billion gallons of water have been impeded so far this year.
The impossible choice comes as new images show that Lake Mead – Powell’s downstream neighbor and largest reservoir in the country – has fallen to historically low levels so that one of the lake’s original 1971 water intake valves is now exposed above the water line.
Within the Glen Canyon Dam, the current water level is still producing energy.
The dam power station has eight generators. The force of the water transmitted through 15-foot-diameter tubes hits and spins a turbine that then generates power. If the water level in Lake Powell dropped only 32 feet, these generators would stop spinning.
The climate crisis is forcing federal and state governments to make tough choices and take only drastic measures to keep electricity and water flowing to Americans in the Southwest.
The Home Office is expected to make a final decision on how to deal with the dire situation at the dam by early May.