Reclamation now expects Lake Powell to fill to 3,620 feet this season #ColoradoRiver

Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From KSL (Ray Grass):

The current level of Lake Powell is 3,574 feet above sea level. When full the level is 3,700 feet. Because of an above normal snowpack in Colorado this winter, which feeds the lake, the level is expected to reach 3,620 this summer. Which is, forecasters admitted, much better than was expected earlier in the winter.

The current level is not the lowest on record. Back in 2005 the lake’s level dropped to 3,555 feet. In 2011, the lake rose to within 40 feet of “full pool’’ and likely would have hit the full mark had not water releases not been increased into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam…

As far as the invasive quagga mussel, adult mussels have been found in Lake Powell. Officials knew that once the mussels established a foothold in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream fron Lake Powell, it would be only a matter of time before they made their way into Lake Powell.

A report in February said “thousands’’ of the tiny bivalves were located in Lake Powell. The mussels cause damage, are a nuisance to lake visitors and are a serious danger to fishing. Each mussel can produce millions of offspring and biologists have been unable to find a way to control the mussels, which fall in the same family as clams, oysters and scallops.

The first quagga mussel was found in Lake Powell in 2007. They were not discovered again until this year.

From the Casa Grande Dispatch (Kayla S. Samoy):

he overall snowpack stands at 115 percent of average for this time of the year in the Rockies. But, is it time to break out the red cups and toast an imminent reprieve in the drought and the dire predictions of cutbacks in regional allotments for water supplies from the 1,450-mile-long Colorado? Not so fast.

“It may be a better-than-average snowpack, but depending on what the weather does it could not snow any more or get hot very quickly and evaporate the water instead of having it flow into the Colorado River basin,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, the agency that manages Colorado River flow into Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties.

There are other factors that will contribute to this winter’s snowpack impact on the Colorado River, said Bob Barrett, another CAP spokesman.

“The concern is that it’s been pretty mild the last month. We’ve had pretty good precipitation, but it was warm,” said Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado River Basin forecast center.
Smith said much of the debate about snowpack is rooted in the differences in the snowpack at different heights. According to Smith, lower elevations have seen very little snow this year…

The Green River Basin area in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado has a significant snowpack, the third-highest on record for this time of the year, said Smith. While that may be advantageous for some places, Arizona is a different story.

“Arizona is kind of a disaster,” Smith said.

Many winter storms skirted northern Arizona and the snow sites in the Verde and Salt River basins are nearly bereft of snow. The snow that did fall in that area disappeared quickly. Since the area doesn’t see many storms after mid-March, there isn’t much chance for a rebound, Smith said.

Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing the worst drought of the century. So far, Colorado River water users have not faced decreases in the amount of water they receiving because of reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were full when the drought began. Today they are about half full.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the 17 western states, makes predictions about the state of water every two years. It currently projects that less water will be released from Lake Powell and Lake Mead this year and perhaps next year if the levels in the lake are still low.

“Right now they’re looking at the potential for shortage in either 2015 or 2016,” said Basefsky. “A shortage is pretty significant for CAP because we have the junior priority for the Colorado River Basin. We would forego importing about 20 percent of our water supply.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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