Video: ‘It fully explains the Fed’s water accounting procedures’ — Greg Heiden #ColoradoRiver

Click here to watch Ma and Pa Kettle do the math.

Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader, Greg Heiden, who sent this link along in email.

Bureau of Reclamation Forecasts Lower Water Release from Lake Powell to Lake Mead for 2014 #ColoradoRiver


Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lisa Iams/Rose Davis):

As part of its ongoing management of Colorado River reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that, based on the best available data projections of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoir elevations, under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines) a release of 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) from Lake Powell is required in water year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014).

An annual release of 7.48 maf is the lowest release since the filling of Lake Powell in the 1960s. Lake Mead is projected to decline an additional eight feet during 2014 as a result of the lower Lake Powell annual release; however, Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in calendar year 2014, with water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico receiving their full water orders in accordance with the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 1944 Treaty with Mexico.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision was signed by the Secretary of the Interior after extensive consultation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, Native American tribes, federal agencies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders and interested parties. The guidelines were adopted to coordinate reservoir management strategies and address annual operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, particularly under low reservoir conditions.

“This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” said Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak. “Reclamation’s collaboration with the seven Colorado River Basin states on the 2007 Interim Guidelines is proving to be invaluable in coordinating the operations of the reservoirs and helping protect future availability of Colorado River water supplies,” added Walkoviak.

Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp also pointed to the variability in the system. “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought. Currently the longer-term projections from Reclamation’s hydrologic models show a very small chance of lower basin delivery shortages in 2015, with the first significant chance of reduced water deliveries in the lower basin in 2016. These projections will be updated monthly and will reflect changes in weather and the resulting hydrology,” said Fulp.

Updated monthly, Reclamation’s 24-Month Study is an operational report that provides projected reservoir operations for all major system reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin for the next two years. The August 24-Month Study is available on the Reclamation websites for the Upper and Lower Colorado regions:

Upper Colorado Region:
Lower Colorado Region:

By planning ahead for varying reservoir levels, the 2007 Interim Guidelines provide Colorado River users, especially those in the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, with a greater degree of certainty about annual water deliveries. The 2007 Interim Guidelines also define the reservoir levels that would trigger delivery shortages and specify those reduced delivery amounts in the lower Colorado River Basin once Lake Mead reaches certain elevations. Information about the 2007 Interim Guidelines is available at

Click here to go to an article from Sally Deneen writing for the National Geographic. They’re running an interactive graphic comprised of aerial photos with a slider so the reader can see the effects of the drought on Lake Powell from 1999 to 2013. Here’s an excerpt:

For days and weeks, water officials fretted that the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s anticipated 24-month study would deliver bad news, and it did. The agency—a division of the Department of Interior that provides water and power in the West—announced today it would cut water released from Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam by 750,000 acre-feet next year. That’s about enough water to serve 1.5 million homes.

“Unprecedented,” said Scott Huntley, spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority, whose chief, Pat Mulroy, has mentioned the idea of seeking federal aid…

Las Vegas effectively has two straws into Lake Mead, which is roughly 300 miles (480 kilometers) downstream of Lake Powell, to get its water. One of those straws could stop working once the lake drops too far—somewhere between 1,050 feet (320 meters) and 1,075 feet (328 meters) above sea level, it’s thought. Perhaps as early as autumn 2014, Lake Mead is expected to drop to 1,075 feet (down 25 feet from the current level).

Anticipating trouble earlier, the city’s water authority has been busy installing a third straw to reach a deeper part of Lake Mead. “It’s essentially a race for us,” Huntley said, as the lake “is going to drop more precipitously than seen in the past.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

The Colorado River supplies roughly half the water used by residents of the Front Range. The river, which begins in the Never Summer Mountains high in Rocky Mountain National Park, serves millions of people from Denver to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the two giant storage reservoirs, is an effort to equalize storage in the two lakes and to stave off the need to curtail use farther up the river in states such as Colorado, said Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district diverts hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water from the river for use in Northern Colorado. The river serves seven states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and California.

“Powell and Mead are as low as they have been in a number of years,” have been in a number of years,” Wilkinson said Friday.

Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, if lower basin states don’t receive their legal share of the river, they can force states such as Colorado, to cut back their use. But Wilkinson said there is no immediate threat of a forced cutback or curtailment because water deliveries are calculated on a running 10-year-average. “Our 10-year running total (delivery) is at 85 million acre feet right now,” he said. “By law we’re only required to deliver 75 maf. So we still have some cushion.”[…]

Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, said the decision is a reflection of the ongoing pressures on the western water supplies. Denver Water derives roughly half of its supplies from the Colorado River…

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who recently led a Senate hearing on the future of the Colorado River basin, urged Coloradans to conserve water following the Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement.

“The Colorado River made our state what it is today: It irrigates our crops, sustains a robust recreation industry and supports cities throughout Colorado,” Udall said in a statement. “The Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement today is a reminder that every Coloradan has a role to play in keeping the Colorado River strong.”

From The Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

“What we’re facing here is a truly historic drought,” said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle, speaking at a meeting of Colorado River managers at which the shortage declaration was a major topic of discussion.

The last 14 years are the driest in a century of record keeping, Castle said, and among the driest such periods in more than a thousand years of tree ring records.

Castle said natural drought, made worse by climate change, requires “new thinking” to deal with the region’s water problems.

New Mexico uses Colorado Basin water for farming and cities in the San Juan Basin in the northwest corner of the state. In addition, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other New Mexico communities use Colorado water imported via the San Juan-Chama project.

Friday’s announcement is the result of a historic deal among the seven Colorado River Basin states signed in 2007 that allowed the federal government to hold back water if Lake Powell drops too low.

That has the practical effect of protecting New Mexico’s supplies for the foreseeable future, because Lake Powell acts as a sort of savings bank for states in the Colorado’s Upper Basin, said Estevan López, head of the state’s Interstate Stream Commission.

Under the 2007 deal, the Upper Basin states agreed to share extra water with the downstream states of Arizona, Nevada and California during wet years in exchange for an agreement to hold water back in Lake Powell during dry years like this one.

“It’s playing out just the way it was supposed to,” López said.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The action by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation led Pat Mulroy, head of the water district that serves the Las Vegas metropolitan area, to call for federal disaster relief, arguing the potential for damage is comparable to East Coast hurricanes…

Mulroy’s Southern Nevada Water Authority is in a race against Mother Nature, rushing to put in a third intake in a deeper part of the reservoir from which to withdraw water. The fear is the reservoir could drop to levels low enough that the other intakes would not work…

Gary Wockner, campaign coordinator for Save the Colorado, said the federal action should be a signal that the Colorado River cannot support any more diversions.

“There’s no more extra water in the system. If you take water out upstream, then someone downstream is going dry,” Wockner said. “So we can’t divert any more water out of the Colorado River or build any new water supply projects.”[…]

Shortages of water deliveries to Nevada, in particular, may further stoke the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s pursuit of a groundwater pumping project in the eastern basins of Nevada…

If the drying trends continue, groups worry that a nightmarish scenario could play out for the West. Those possibilities include:

  • Lower water levels could cut off power production at Glen Canyon Dam as soon as the winter of 2015, affecting power supply and pricing in six states.
  • Less water coming into Lake Mead may bring the level below an intake pipe that delivers water to Las Vegas by the spring of 2015.
  • By the winter of 2015, Lake Mead may also dip to a level that will result in a major decline in power generation at Hoover Dam, affecting supply and cost of power for consumers in three states, including California.
  • The bureau’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp did point to the unpredictability and variability in the Colorado River system. “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” he said.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    July inflow into Lake Powell was just 13 percent of average, following a spring runoff season during whic the river delivered only about a third of the average amount of water.

    The cutback comes as no surprise, and won’t have an immediate impact on water users in California, Arizona and Nevada. In 2007, states that depend on the river agreed to a set of guidelines for reduced flows to the Lower Basin states when Lake Powell dips to a certain level. The giant reservoir holds about 24.3 million acre feet but is currently only about half full, nearing a level that triggers the agreed-upon cuts.

    From the Arizona Central (Dennis Wagner):

    A Bureau of Reclamation study released Friday says the Colorado River’s worst drought in a century will force reduced water releases from Lake Powell that could affect agriculture, downstream business and hydroelectric power production.

    Groups urging conservation warned of drastic cutbacks and severe economic implications while state officials and the Central Arizona Project sought to downplay the alarm…

    CAP officials emphasized that water delivery to towns and cities will not be affected. However, based on the bureau projections, they said shortages could trigger a 20 percent decrease in Arizona deliveries to agriculture…

    CAP stressed that, if the drought triggers a shortage and cutbacks in two years, it will not have an impact on municipalities, residential water users or Native American tribes.

    From The Christian Science Monitor (Pete Spotts):

    The bureau formally announced the cut Friday. The amount of water that the bureau will release from the lake starting Oct. 1 will be some 10 percent less than the amount released in the prior 12 months – some 7.48 million acre-feet of water during the 2014 water year, compared with 8.23 million acre-feet during the current water year, which ends Sept. 30…

    “We’re in an unparalleled – at least in recorded history – period of droughts on the Colorado River system,” says Michael Cohen, a senior research associate who specializes in Colorado River water issues at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif.

    “It seems that this is the new normal,” he says, noting that climate scientists studying the potential effects of global warming have been predicting these conditions in the region for more than a decade…

    The bureau’s move “is truly historic,” adds Taylor Hawes, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program. “The bureau has never released less than 7.5 million acre-feet” of water since the Glen Canyon Dam, which formed Lake Powell, was built.

    The bureau took the action under an interim allocation agreement hammered out in 2007 between states in the upper Colorado River Basin and the lower basin. The upper-basin states include Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico. The lower-basin states include Arizona, Nevada, and California…

    Flows for the past two months give a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City show that flows in June were 35 percent below average, while July’s flows were 13 percent of normal. August looks a bit better, with stream flows projected at 32 percent below normal.

    Under the 2007 allocation agreement, the bureau tries to strike a balance in water levels between Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Dr. Fulp explains.

    “We try to get a better balance during high-flow years between the two basins,” he says. “We’re trying to balance the pain of low-flow years between the two basins.”

    Although Lake Mead is drawing the short straw this time around, it received about 800,000 additional acre-feet of water from Lake Powell last year, Mr. Cohen adds. This was preceded by a bigger release from Powell to Mead in 2008, he adds. “So in some ways, it’s a wash,” he says.

    Even so, the cost of Friday’s announcement to Lake Mead is a waterline eight feet lower than it is today – a falling level that Las Vegas is desperately trying to beat as it installs a new intake system at the lake to provide water for the city…

    The supply-demand study that the bureau released in December was a call to action for more-aggressive efforts to improve water-use efficiency and for other approaches to adapting to a future where climate and populations continue to put the squeeze on water resources, Ms. Hawes says. But looking at the bureau’s historic reduction in water to be released from Lake Powell, she adds, “Nobody expected it to happen so quickly.”

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

    Reclamation operates Glen Canyon in tandem with its downstream partner Hoover Dam, which impounds Lake Mead, a key water source for Las Vegas and other lower Colorado River Basin users. The two reservoirs, which sit on each side of the Grand Canyon, are both less than half full, putting their ability to generate hydropower at risk.

    From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

    More than a decade into a drought that has plagued the Southwest, federal officials for the first time plan a sharp cut in the amount of Colorado River water that flows 360 miles from Lake Powell into Lake Mead. In the year starting Oct. 1, officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Friday, that supply will drop by nearly 10%—roughly equivalent to the annual water usage of about 700,000 families.

    The cut will translate into a reduction in hydroelectric power generation in some areas served by the reservoir—Nevada, Arizona and California—and brings the reservoir level close to a federal declaration of a water shortage. Such a declaration would mean that Nevada and Arizona would face having their water allocations cut…

    The effect on Lake Mead will be a drop in water level of eight feet, which will come on top of receding water levels that already have totaled about 100 feet since the drought took hold in 2000. Water levels at Lake Mead now stand at an elevation of 1105 feet. The new cutback will bring the level perilously close to a federal trigger point of 1075 feet—the measure at which the Interior Department would declare a water shortage. Mr. Fulp said in an interview that there is a 50% chance such a shortage would be declared in 2016; a probability he added has been increased this year as the drought has intensified. The reduction will result in an 8% decrease in electricity production at Glen Canyon Dam, requiring a federal power agency to spend about $10 million to buy electricity on the open market to meet customer demands, said Lisa Iams, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman in Salt Lake City…

    In Arizona, a reduction of 320,000 acre-feet, or one fifth its supply, would prompt the Central Arizona Project to cut supplies for farming and other lower-priority uses such as banking water underground to guard against a future emergency, said Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs manager for the big water agency.

    Here’s a release from US Senator Mark Udall’s office (Mike Saccone):

    Following the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision today to release a historically low amount of water from Lake Powell, Mark Udall urged Coloradans to do their part by responsibly using water and making every drop count. Udall, who recently led a U.S. Senate hearing on the future of the Colorado River Basin, said every Coloradan has an obligation to conserve water. He also urged the groups involved in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Study to keep moving forward to implement the strategies identified in the study, which include reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply.

    “The Colorado River made our state what it is today: It irrigates our crops, sustains a robust recreation industry, and supports cities throughout Colorado,” Udall said. “The Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement today is a reminder that every Coloradan has a role to play in keeping the Colorado River strong. Make every drop count: Only use what you need and make water conservation a priority.”

    Udall has been an unwavering advocate for the Colorado River and the interstate and international compacts that keep it strong. He heralded a recent agreement between the United States and Mexico, in cooperation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, to better manage the Colorado River. He also has been a strong proponent of finding innovative ways to better manage water to meet the rising demand throughout the West.

    Udall also has fought to protect Colorado’s waterways and reservoirs from threats like wildfire. He welcomed a federal, state and local partnership the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior formed in July to reduce the threat wildfires pose to Colorado’s drinking-water supplies. Udall also led the recent fight to secure recovery funds for Colorado’s watersheds damaged by 2012’s High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires.

    From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter and Paul Foy) via The Sacramento Bee:

    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. [Terry] 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…

    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.”

    From inkstain (John Fleck):

    The shortfall out of Lake Powell in 2014 is not all that large compared to the recent over-deliveries. Or maybe this really makes the case that the Lower Basin is not living within its means, where “its means” are defined as 8.23 maf per year.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    More water will be stored in Lake Powell in 2014 as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation anticipates the likelihood of continued drought.

    “This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak said, noting that low water levels will require increased coordination in the operations of reservoirs upstream from Lake Powell.

    Storing more water in Lake Powell will protect the ability of the bureau to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Should Powell fall below powerhead (the level at which water can spin the turbines) there’s a whole revenue stream that’s at stake,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said.

    That revenue stream includes funding from Powell’s power revenues for selenium- and salinity-control programs, Pokrandt said.

    Additional storage in Powell can insulate the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming from an immediate demand by downstream states for water guaranteed them under a 1922 agreement, but that possibility is not immediate, said Terry Fulp, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region director.

    “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly, as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” Fulp said.

    Longer-term projections in the bureau’s longer-term models show a “very small chance of lower-basin delivery shortages in 2015,” Fulp said.

    The first significant chance of reduced water deliveries to the lower basin is in 2016, Fulp said, noting that projections will be updated monthly to reflect changes in weather and hydrology.

    Bureau officials and environmentalists have been raising alarms in recent months about demand outstripping supply on the river serving some 40 million people in seven states and cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas.

    “The problem isn’t drought, and a big rain storm or a heavy winter snow season won’t fix this,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers in Washington. D.C. The advocacy group in April labeled the Colorado River the most endangered waterway in the U.S.

    “What we need are fundamental changes in how we manage water in the Colorado basin,” Irvin said. “This is the loudest wake-up call so far.”

    Fulp pointed to a federal report issued in December that concluded that the river may not meet the needs of a growing regional population by 2060.

    “The study showed very clearly that demand and supply curves are crossing and demand is exceeding supply,” he said.

    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 about 9 percent, 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 Friday was at 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.

    A shortage declaration would mean Arizona would get 11.4 percent less than its 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. Nevada would get 4.3 percent less than its 300,000 acre-foot allotment — a loss equivalent of the amount serving 26,000 homes.

    Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy last week floated the idea of a federal disaster declaration due to drought in the Southwest. Meanwhile, local officials stress conservation, and note that iconic dancing fountains on the Las Vegas Strip use recycled water.

    From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

    Lake Mead will receive its smallest water delivery ever in the coming year, thanks to a sudden dip in Lake Powell fueled by the second- driest year since drought hit the Colorado River in 2000. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made it official Friday with the release of its August forecast that sets the annual water delivery from Lake Powell and predicts reservoir levels along the river through July 2015. The document calls for Lake Powell to release 7.48 million acre-feet of water in the coming year, 750,000 acre-feet less than in any year since the reservoir on the Arizona-Utah border was created.

    The move will speed the decline of Lake Mead, which is expected to drop almost 25 feet to a record low by November 2014. By April 2015, the surface of Lake Mead could sink to 1,075 feet above sea level, triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the river and prompting water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

    Should the lake keep dropping from there, it eventually will shut down one of the two intakes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to draw about 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply. According to the federal projections released Friday, that could happen sometime in late summer 2015…

    “Conditions on the Colorado River continue to deteriorate,” she said. “Weathering this storm will require an exceptional level of cooperation among all of us who rely upon the Colorado River, whether for municipal water supplies or agricultural irrigation.”

    Conservation groups are expressing alarm. One group called what is happening to the river “The Great Depletion.” “This is like the ‘check engine’ light coming on in your car,” said Bart Miller of the Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates. “It’s a message from the Colorado River telling us that something is wrong, and we need to fix it soon.”

    Back in Southern Nevada, critics of the water authority argue the agency isn’t behaving as though there is a crisis. No major new water restrictions have been adopted or even proposed since 2009, and no real effort has been made to curb indoor water use or set limits on future residential and commercial development. If this is such an emergency, why aren’t Mulroy and company screaming for the community to cut its water use as much as possible?

    For one thing, said authority spokesman J.C. Davis, this is not a problem that can be solved by people in Southern Nevada using less water. Nevada gets 300,000 acre-feet, or about 2 percent, of the 16.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water that is parceled out each year among seven western states and Mexico. If the Las Vegas Valley went one year without using any water from Lake Mead, the impact on the reservoir would be a rise of about 3 feet…

    The agency still hasn’t figured out how to pay for what figures to be one of the most expensive public works projects in Nevada history: a network of wells, pipelines and pumps stretching several hundred miles to bring groundwater to Las Vegas from across rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties. By the authority’s own estimates, the in-state water project could wind up costing as much as $15 billion, including financing costs.

    Authority board members have yet to cast a final vote authorizing the design and construction of the controversial pipeline, but a decision could come by the end of next year.

    Under rules adopted by the authority in 2009, the vote will be taken as soon as Lake Mead drops to the 1,075-foot level.

    It seems the only thing that can stop that now is a Rocky Mountain winter choked with heavy snow.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.