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Mega drought in the US causes problems at the Hoover Dam – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Every day, millions of gallons of water from the Colorado River flow through the Hoover Dam, generating electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes.

But the mega-drought affecting the western United States is causing reservoir levels to drop toward Deadpool — the point at which the dam can no longer produce electricity.

“We’re in our 23rd year of drought here in the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead is down to 28 percent,” said Patti Aaron of the US Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam. She was referring to the huge lake created by the construction of the dam.

“There’s not as much pressure, so there’s not as much pressure pushing the water into the turbines, so there’s less efficiency and we can’t produce as much electricity.”

The Hoover Dam was a feat of American hope and engineering.

Construction began in 1931 as the country was stunted by the Great Depression.

Thousands of workers toiled 24 hours a day to build what was then the world’s largest hydroelectric power station.

The dam dammed the Colorado River and created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States.

At its height, the lake surface is over 365 meters above sea level. But after more than two decades of drought, it’s now less than 1,050 feet — the lowest since the lake was filled, and it’s falling about a foot a week.

If it drops to 300 meters, the inlets of the dam are no longer under water and the turbines stop.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Aaron said. “Not producing electricity or not supplying water is simply not an option.”

– Melting snowpack –

The Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains and meanders through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico where it empties into the Gulf of California.

It is primarily fed by the vast snowpack that is dumped at high altitudes and slowly melts in the warmer months.

But less precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels mean less snow falls and the snow that is there melts faster.

As a result, there isn’t that much in a river that provides water to millions of people and countless acres of farmland.

Boaters on Lake Mead, many from Las Vegas and surrounding cities, say they are doing their part to protect supplies.

They point to the drought-tolerant landscapes they created in place of lawns and the high proportion of indoor water that is recycled in desert cities.

“But there are farmers in California who grow almonds for export,” said Kameron Wells, who lives in nearby Henderson, Nevada.

Homeowners in Southern California have been grumbling about the fate of their lush lawns since they were ordered to limit their outdoor watering to one or two days a week in the early summer.

But there, as in the Las Vegas desert periphery, there is a lot of new construction going on, with huge homes being built in the Lake Las Vegas resort community.

And from the air, the vibrant greens of dozens of golf courses dot an otherwise dusty landscape.

– ‘Out of sight out of mind’ –

University of Nevada, Reno climatologist Steph McAfee says the western United States has always been something improbable.

“The average rainfall in Las Vegas is about four inches per year,” she told AFP.

“And to enable cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix and Los Angeles, we’re relying on water falling as snow on the mountains in parts of the West that are obviously much, much wetter.”

According to McAfee, the last two decades of drought are not all that unusual in terms of climate, based on tree ring reconstructions.

But “what’s going on now is that we’re having a drought and the temperatures are a lot warmer and when the temperatures are high things dry out quicker.

“This is a consequence of climate change…driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

On Lake Mead, boat salesman Jason Davis maneuvers his boat to Hoover Dam, where thousands of tons of concrete rise above the water in graceful modernist lines, and a ring of mineral deposits shows where the water level used to be.

For him, the lake is not just a battery for the huge generators in the dam, but a water landscape whose beauty and tranquility are worth protecting.

“You know, people who haven’t been here don’t appreciate it,” he says as a sunset rages in the desert sky overhead.

“It’s like, out of sight, out of mind. Hey, we’re using too much water.

“Well, if you haven’t seen those rings, you don’t quite understand.

“I hope it’s not too late.”

#Mega #drought #problems #Hoover #Dam

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