Severe drought could threaten power supplies in the western U.S. for years to come

While drought persists in more than 95% of the American West, water levels at Hoover Dam have dropped to a record low, threatening the source of hydroelectric power for about 1.3 million people in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Water levels in Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir that serves the Hoover Dam, dropped to 1,068 feet in July, the lowest level since the lake first filled since the dam was built in the 1930s. The federal government is expected to declare the Colorado River water shortage for the first time this month, causing a reduction in the amount of water supplied from the river to neighboring states.

Widespread drought conditions in the Southwest over the past 20 years have caused water levels in Lake Mead to drop more than 130 feet since 2000.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest projections in July, the lake’s water level will drop another 31 feet, to 1,037 feet, by June 2023.

The dams depend on the enormous pressure created by the reservoir to generate electricity, which they shut off. When the water level drops, the pressure decreases, and the dams, in turn, produce less hydroelectric power, which means the dam can produce less electricity.

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