From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
The nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, is now at its lowest point since it filled in the 1960s.
The massive reservoir on the Colorado River hit a new historic low on July 24, dropping below 3,555.1 feet in elevation. The previous low was set in 2005. The last time the reservoir was this low was in 1969, when it first filled. It’s currently at 33% of its capacity.
The popular southwestern recreation hotspot on the Arizona-Utah border, which plays host to houseboats, kayaks and speedboats, has fluctuated over the past 21 years due to low river flows exacerbated by warming temperatures. About 4.4 million people visited Lake Powell in 2019, and spent $427 million in nearby communities, according to the National Park Service.
Demand across the seven U.S. states and two Mexican states that rely on the river hasn’t declined fast enough to match the reduced supply, said Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University…
Forecasts for Lake Powell’s inflows from the Colorado River grew increasingly pessimistic during spring and early summer this year. Flows from April to July are projected to be 25% of the long term average, placing 2021 into the top three driest on record for the watershed.
“The hard lesson we’re learning about climate change is that it’s not a gradual, slow descent to a new state of affairs,” Udall said…
Emergency water releases from smaller reservoirs upstream of Powell will take place over the next six months. They’re meant to maintain hydropower production at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.
“I’m very alarmed,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Interior Department. “It’s not only focused on hydropower concerns, we’re concerned operationally in general. We’re acting in coordination with the states about these decisions.”
Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, also on the Colorado River, is at a record low. Both Powell and Mead are projected to decline further this year…
The river’s current managing guidelines are set to expire in 2026. An update to those guidelines passed in 2019 included a potential demand management program in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. In its conceptual form, the program would pay water users to voluntarily forgo water deliveries in exchange for payment. The saved water could be banked in Lake Powell to buffer against a potential Colorado River Compact call from downstream states.
None of the Upper Basin states has committed to fully implementing a plan to rein in demands on the river’s water in order to fill Lake Powell with conserved water. The plan remains in an investigatory phase.