‘We’ve seen…the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years’ — Terry Fulp #ColoradoRiver

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From the Associated Press via the Albuquerque Journal:

After back-to-back driest years in a century on the Colorado River, federal water managers are giving Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having their water deliveries cut in 2016, unless the Rocky Mountains get more winter snow than in recent years. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations plan being made public Friday will for the first time ever slow the flow of water from the Lake Powell reservoir upstream of the Grand Canyon to the huge Lake Mead reservoir that provides almost all of Las Vegas’ water.

But a bureau official said Lake Mead won’t reach a low point next year that would trigger cuts to Sin City’s main drinking water supply.

“What we’ve seen in the last two years are the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years,” bureau Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp said in an interview in advance of the report.

“We’re going to slow Powell’s decline. That will hasten Mead’s decline,” he said. “But next year, we can adjust again.”

The bureau that controls the levers at the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams said cities, states, farmers and Indian tribes will get their full Colorado River water deliveries next year — and probably in 2015.

Fulp said a 2 percent chance of the Lake Mead level dropping in 2015 to the trigger point for a shortage declaration increases to 50 percent in 2016…

Fulp compares managing the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River to pouring tea from one cup to another. He said the usual annual delivery of 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead will be cut next year to 7.48 million acre-feet. Officials say one acre-foot is enough to serve two Nevada families for a year.

Lake Powell, near the Utah-Arizona state line, would decrease from 45 percent this year to 42 percent next year.

Lake Mead, on the Nevada-Arizona state line, is currently at 47 percent capacity and could drop to 39 percent capacity next year.

Lake Mead on Thursday was at nearly 1,106 feet. The low level next year would be about 10 feet above a 1,075-foot elevation trigger point agreed upon in 2007 by the seven U.S. states that share river water under a 1928 allocation agreement. Native American tribes and Mexico also get shares of Colorado River water…

California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water in 2016 depending on the Lake Mead water level. But officials acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

“Denver Water has a direct interest in these issues because half our supply comes from the Colorado River,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of the water agency serving Denver and its suburbs. “Issues like compact curtailment or political or legal confrontation along the river will affect that supply.”[…]

Utah Division of Water Resources chief Dennis Strong said his state doesn’t currently draw its full 1.4-million acre-foot allotment of river water. He said his concern was for states in the Colorado River’s lower basin.

“We’ve spent 14 years in a drought situation — with only three above-average years — and Lake Powell and Lake Mead are below half full,” Strong said. “It’s hard not to worry about the future when you’re below 50 percent.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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