Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hoover Dam could stop generating electricity as soon as 2013

Eric Wolff in North County Times (California): After 75 years of steadily cranking out electricity for California, Arizona and Nevada, the mighty turbines of the Hoover Dam could cease turning as soon as 2013, if water levels in the lake that feeds the dam don't start to recover, say water and dam experts. Under pressure from the region's growing population and years of drought, Lake Mead was down to 1,087 feet, a 54-year low, as of Wednesday.

If the lake loses 10 feet a year, as it has recently, it will soon reach 1,050 feet, the level below which the turbines can no longer run. Those hydroelectric generators produce cheap electricity for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is responsible for pumping water across the Colorado River Aqueduct to hydrate much of Southern California.

Without that power, Metropolitan's costs to transport water will double or even triple, a district executive said. That could result in a $10 to $20 a month increase in annual costs for residential customers, but could have greater impacts on business customers who use more water.

Federal and state water managers have been working to stave off that day, and two scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla who study Lake Mead believe that managers will never allow levels to get below 1,050 feet. But Pat Mulroy, who runs the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said she has to worry about the worst-case scenario.

One of two intake pipes that pump water to Las Vegas is at that same 1,050-foot level. "We're teetering on the first shortage right now," Mulroy said. "How quickly Mead goes down depends on which hydrology you look at; the Bureau (of Reclamation, which runs the dam) bases it on probability. But the whole probability analysis, because of climate change, has been thrown out the window. We’re experiencing anomaly after anomaly."….

Aerial view of Hoover Dam, shot by snakefisch

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