by Matt Owens January 25, 2013
On January 17, 2013, Jeff Lukas, the Senior Research Associate of Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, gave an hour-long presentation at the most recent Weather and Climate Summit. The take-away from his presentation is this: droughts will be getting worse, no question about it. Cause: climate change. Time-frame: already started. And a potential megadrought, a phenomena that hasn't reared its ugly head for at least 150 years, poses a real and serious risk that needs to be planned for. Indeed, on an individual basis, it seems likely that those who get ahead of the curve will fare much better than those who bury their heads in the sand on this issue.
Megadroughts, are generally considered to be periods of 20 years or longer where continuous, or mostly continuous extreme drought covers a very large area, typically about 1/3 of the lower 48 (US states). And they're as bad as they sound - maybe worse.
If such a drought happens, the Colorado River's flow will drop drastically. The Bureau of Reclamation, which estimates that 25% of the US food supply is grown using Colorado River water, has already done a study to simulate a megadrought; results: Glen Canyon Dam hydro plant would have to stop generating power for about 20 years (two separate stretches of 10 years during the simulation). Both lake Mead and Lake Powell would see water levels drop by about 100 feet. Below: a slide from Lukas' presentation showing the simulation results.