Lake Powell news: 2011 water year inflows forecasted to be 106 percent of average, about 12.78 million acre feet

A picture named lowlakepowell2004

Lake Powell (actually a reservoir at Glen Canyon) shows up on the original maps Delph Carpenter used as technical support for the movers and shakers that negotiated the Colorado River Compact. He saw the reservoir as key to enabling the upper basin states to meet compact requirements for deliveries to the lower basin states at Lee’s Ferry. The reservoir has served the compact well in that role. The upper basin states have never failed to deliver the 10 year moving average of 75 million acre-feet required by the “Law of the River.”

Here’s an in-depth look at the recent hydrological history of the upper basin and how Lake Powell has fared with a look ahead for this water year, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizen’s Voice. From the article:

As recently as 1999, Lake Powell was full, storing 23.5 million acre-feet of water — about 97 percent of capacity. During the next five years, 2000 – 2004, inflow into Lake Powell was well below average and storage dropped to about 8 million acre-feet, about 33 percent of capacity. Drought conditions eased somewhat in 2005, 2008 and 2009, bringing storage back up to about 12.9 million acre-feet (53.1 percent of capacity) as of March 7, 2011. For perspective, that’s still about 88 feet below full pool…

Based on current snowpack readings and runoff predictions, the Bureau of Reclamation expects March inflow to be about 90 percent of average, climbing to 112 percent of average in April and 126 percent of average during the peak runoff month of May. For the 2011 water year, the expectations are that inflow will total about 106 percent of average, about 12.78 million acre feet.

More coverage from The New York Times (Felicity Barringer). From the article:

the Interior Department announced this week that it would follow its original plan and deliver 40 percent more water than usual from Lake Powell, the Utah reservoir that is 357 miles upstream and about 2,500 feet uphill from Lake Mead. With users in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the agricultural valleys of California and Arizona expected to take a little less than normal for 2011, most of the excess of more than three million acre-feet will stay in Lake Mead, the lower of the two massive Colorado River reservoirs that have enabled the rapid growth of Phoenix, Las Vegas and southern California.

Here’s a guest commentary about the Colorado River basin written by Lori Weigel and Andrew Maxfield that is running in The Denver Post. From the article:

As Democratic and Republican pollsters, we can speak to the fact that the West is politically divided on many issues, but water isn’t one of them. Voters of all political stripes have witnessed the rapid growth in states like Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, where urban populations have grown by 20 percent to 30 percent over the last decade. They know demand has increased.

On the supply side, Republicans and Democrats may disagree somewhat on the reasons why there is less water, but at a certain point, it doesn’t matter whether the reduced water flows are due to higher temperatures from climate change or the result of a 12-year drought. It is simply a harsh reality everyone faces.

The effects have been felt by some in the West more than others, but most everyone recognizes that future water shortages will affect everyone. Farmers and ranchers have been dealing in a high-stakes game with cities over water rights, affecting our food supply and city budgets. Outfitters, hunters, fishermen and recreationists such as paddlers can speak to the already profound effects that reduced water flows are having on lakes, rivers and wildlife in the West’s great outdoors — risking the environment and outdoor recreation-dependent economies. People are beginning to experience the effects of less water in their own households…

In the Harstad Research polling, voters almost unanimously said we need to find a way to balance the water we have — between personal and residential water needs, the water needed to preserve the rivers, lakes and forests of our national parks, and the agricultural water needs of our farms and ranches — even if it means that everyone must find ways to conserve. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the recent meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, “We must build a water policy that is inclusive of all interests.” Well, voters would tend to agree. There are plenty of political fights ahead in the West, but figuring out what to do about water shouldn’t be one of them.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Leave a Reply