From The Los Angeles Times (William Yardley):
…there is one place where the precipitation has been particularly welcome and could be transformative: the Colorado River basin, which provides water to nearly 40 million people across seven states.
“We’re in a really good spot as far as snow accumulations,” said Malcolm Wilson, who leads the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group in the upper Colorado River basin.
Under federal guidelines that kick in when water flows reach certain volumes, the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, could release enough water from the former to raise the elevation of the latter by 20 feet or more — providing a remarkable shot in the arm for a lake that has been declining steadily during a devastating drought that started in 2000.
The process — lowering one reservoir to lift another — is called equalization, and a few weeks ago, it was not even viewed as a viable option. Now, Wilson said, “It’s in the realm of possibility.”
Even if that optimistic scenario does not play out — the region would need several more weeks of strong precipitation without a substantial warmup — there is still reason to savor a moment of relief on the Colorado…
As of last month, the bureau was forecasting about a 50% chance that, for the first time, the river and its reservoirs would not be able to fulfill the water demands of states that rely on it, beginning in 2018.
But this week, the bureau quietly updated that forecast, saying the chance was only about 34%. By the end of this year, it expects Lake Mead to be at least 3 feet above the threshold at which an official “shortage” would be declared.
Not only that, the bureau said the likelihood of a shortage through 2021 is no greater than 33%. Just a few weeks ago, the chances of shortages in that time frame were about 60%.