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KNAU and Arizona News

What would happen if Glen Canyon Dam stops producing hydropower?

Glen Canyon Dam
Melissa Sevigny
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Glen Canyon Dam

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecasts a 23 percent chance that power production could cease at Glen Canyon Dam in 2024 due to low water levels. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports on how that might affect energy consumers in the West.

Hydropower production has already dropped by about a third compared to when the reservoir is full.

Lisa Meiman is a spokesperson for the Western Area Power Administration, which markets Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower to five million customers in six Western states. She says, "This is a concerning situation, but we’re not in an emergency. We’re working diligently with Reclamation. We know now that we’re headed into a drier time."

Meiman says customers would have to switch to other forms of power generation and the effect on energy rates is unclear. Most affected by the loss would be the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. It gets 40 percent of its energy from Colorado River hydropower and would have to spend millions of dollars to replace it.

A 2015 study from the Glen Canyon Institute suggests most customers would see only a small rate increase. Eric Balken, the institute’s executive director, says "It’s not going to be an easy solution, but I think that given the increasing likelihood of this happening, we need to start thinking about the transition off Glen Canyon hydropower."

Lake Powell is less than thirty percent full due to drought and climate change. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is taking emergency steps this year to raise the reservoir’s level.

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