Operations at one of Spain’s largest hydropower plants have been halted due to drought-like conditions, foreshadowing the future of the rapidly receding Lake Mead.
Electric utility company Endesa SA has shut down its facility in Mequinenza, Zaragoza, Spain after its water levels receded below 23 percent capacity, Bloomberg reported. This is below the minimum required to produce electricity. The plant first opened in 1966, and until now, has never been shut down.
Spain is suffering one of the most severe droughts seen in more than a decade, with around 32 percent of the country affected due to rising temperatures and lack of rainfall.
The situation mirrors similar ones across the globe, including the ongoing drought gripping the southwestern United States. Experts fear for the future of Lake Mead—a huge man-made reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam, stretching across Nevada and Arizona.
Lake Mead’s turbines work to provide electricity for hundreds of thousands of people living across the area, but the water levels are rapidly inching towards deadpool level, when the dam’s turbines will no longer be able to generate power. As the largest man-made reservoir in North America, it is also an integral water supply.
Andrea Gerlak, professor at the School of Geography, Development & Environment at the University of Arizona, told Newsweek: “We are dangerously close to hitting the 950 foot elevation at Lake Mead needed to turn the turbines and generate electricity. If water levels in the lake continue to drop, it will certainly have negative implications for electricity customers in the neighboring states and communities.”
Lake Mead’s water levels stand at 1,045 feet, which is only around 27 percent of its usual capacity.
According to a two-year probabilistic projection of the Colorado River system from the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. water-resource management office, Lake Mead could reach 992 feet by the end of July 2024. This is the bureau’s “probable minimum” level the lake could reach within 24 months. Experts have already warned that if the lake reached deadpool, it could be a catastrophe.
“But, more importantly—if and when Hoover Dam stops producing electricity—it will call into question our very assumptions for how we manage water and energy in the southwestern U.S.,” said Gerlak, who is also director at the university’s Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.
“It will finally be time to have those difficult discussions about what it means to collectively share and manage a resource in sustainable and equitable ways in the face of changing climate.”
Lake Mead is not the only body of water in the U.S. drying up amid severe drought conditions. Areas of the Mississippi River have seen the driest conditions in decades, while the water levels of the Great Salt Lake in Utah are the lowest they have ever been.
Newsweek has contacted Endesa SA for comment.