Killing the Colorado

A Wonder in Decline

The disappearing Lake Powell in pictures

A collaboration with Medium
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Drained by overuse and drought, Lake Powell is at once a beautiful and frightening reflection of the West’s water crisis.

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Lake Powell sits behind the 700-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam and is the nation’s second-largest water reserve. Its water levels have recently fluctuated between 39 and 51 percent full.

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As a result, Lake Powell risks falling to what experts call “dead pool,” meaning there is no longer enough water for it to flow through the dam’s gates or generate the hydropower that the West’s electricity grid depends on.

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There’s also this: Lake Powell leaks like a sieve. As much as 123 billion gallons of water — 2.6 percent of the entire flow of the Colorado River — seeps into fissures in the porous sandstone underlying the lake and disappears each year.

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Another 168 billion gallons evaporates off the surface annually, as the sprawling lake bakes in the arid desert climate.

A facility whose central purpose is to save water instead loses a mind-boggling amount of it. Were Lake Powell to go away, the American Southwest would have approximately 6 percent more water overnight.

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