Big Water, Utah “It’s hard to believe that a place as beautiful as Lake Powell is a shadow of its former self. Satellite images show the dramatic impact of the 22-year mega-drought that left the lake only 24% full.
The last time the lake was full was in 1999, according to Eric Balken, who heads the Glen Canyon Institute. The institute wants to restore the canyon that was flooded in the 1960s to create Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir.
“We’re about 45 feet lower than last year,” Balken told CBS News. “It looks like we can expect this to be a new normal.”
Climate change is making the West hotter and drier, threatening the Colorado River system, including the man-made reservoirs at Lake Powell in Utah and Lake Mead in Nevada that provide water to 40 million people in seven states.
The National Park Service has been forced to close 11 boat ramps in the Lake Powell Recreation Area, which attracts millions of visitors.
Extremely low lake levels could soon cause Glen Canyon Dam to stop producing hydroelectricity for more than five million people in six states, forcing them to find alternative sources.
“It’s completely unprecedented. This lake hasn’t been at this level since 1967,” Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Superintendent William Shott told CBS News.
That’s when Glen Canyon was drowned, obliterating a landscape often compared to the Grand Canyon. Now, as the water recedes, the canyon is reborn.
“To see this place come back to life is such a special experience,” Balken said. “It’s a kind of treasure hunt.”
Balken thinks the remaining water from Lake Powell should be sent downstream to support Lake Mead, returning it to a place for hiking rather than boating.
“We can’t just carry on business as usual and hope that more water will fill that reservoir because it probably won’t,” he said. “It would be prudent for us to start planning for life after Lake Powell.”