Climate Change

2 largest US reservoirs at ‘dangerously low levels’: UNEP

These lakes are currently at their lowest levels ever and are at risk of reaching ‘dead pool status’ 

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 04 August 2022
Lake Powell was created in 1964 by the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, United States. Photo: UN News

Two of the largest reservoirs in the United States (US) have dwindled to ‘dangerously low levels’ due to the impacts of climate change, warned the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) August 2, 2022.

The low levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell can affect the water and electricity supply for millions of people living in the six western states of the US, including — Nevada, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico, said UNEP.

Lake Mead, located in the states of Nevada and Arizona, is the largest artificial body of water in the US. Lake Powell is another artificial reservoir on the Colorado river, straddling the border between the states of Utah and Arizona.

These lakes are currently at their lowest levels ever and are at risk of reaching ‘dead pool status’ — a point at which the water level is low that it could no longer flow downstream and aid power hydroelectric power stations, noted UNEP.

Lis Mullin Bernhardt, an ecosystems expert at the UNEP, said:

The conditions in the American west, which we see around the Colorado river basin, have been so dry for more than 20 years that we’re no longer speaking of a drought. We refer to it as ‘aridification’ — a new, very dry normal.


Water levels in Mead lake are currently at their lowest since April 1937. As of July 18, 2022, Lake Mead was filled only up to 27 per cent of its capacity.

Some 83 per cent of the states in Colorado are now experiencing a drought-like situations and the snowpack from last winter was below average in many places, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Earth Observatory.

Recently, the US Federal Bureau of Reclamation has given the Colorado River states a 60-day deadline to develop an emergency plan to conserve water.

Lake Powell’s storage capacity has deteriorated to nearly seven per cent of its potential capacity from 1963 to 2018, according to a report compiled by the US Geological Survey in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

The vast majority of natural disasters (over 90 per cent), including drought, flood and tropical storms, significantly affecting societies and the economies, are related to water, according to UNEP.

Since 1970, weather, climate and water hazards have accounted for around 50 per cent of all disasters. These hazards impact the lives and livelihoods of 55 million people globally every year, according to a report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

As of May 3, 2022, droughts of different levels of severity have affected almost 64 per cent of the area of the continental United States.

“The seven Colorado River Basin States – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, need to reduce their diversions from the Colorado River by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in 2022,” US Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Camille CalimlimTouton had warned earlier in June, this year.

UNEP is among the lead agencies for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, aimed at countering climate change and halting biodiversity.


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