Reclamation weighs emergency action as #ColoradoRiver demand outpaces supply — The #Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, just upstream from Glen Canyon Dam. At the time of this photo, in May 2021, Lake Powell was 34% full. (Ted Wood/The Water Desk)

Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

… Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are at historically low levels and operating in uncharted territory.The reservoirs, stocked with water that originates as snowpack, are not expected to refill soon. Forecasters predict a lackluster runoff, the amount of snow that melts away, drains into the river and eventually reaches the reservoirs. A hotter and drier climate has contributed to a smaller river — less supply. And water managers are struggling to figure out how to move forward, as some cuts and reductions have been made, but not enough to match the water that’s available.

At the same time, similar arid conditions are contributing to upward pressures on demand to use water. The states in the Lower Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) depend on Lake Mead, held back by the Hoover Dam. In Arizona and California, agricultural districts are meeting or exceeding their expected water use due, in part, to a very hot and dry start to the year. And water users, including the large municipal purveyor that supplies Southern California, might have to draw on their reserve account at Lake Mead, further lowering the reservoir levels…

In a recent letter first reported by the Arizona Daily Star’s Tony Davis, federal water managers warned the states that they are considering an emergency action that could accelerate the decline of Lake Mead. They are proposing to keep more water in Lake Powell, which is held back by Glen Canyon Dam upstream. Lake Powell and Lake Mead work together in tandem. By keeping more water in Lake Powell, federal officials would release less water downstream to Lake Mead than expected. The move is intended to keep Lake Powell stable, providing a small window of relief to the system. But it comes with a cost: Such a move would lead to the further decline of Lake Mead, potentially making the risk of deeper, short-term water cuts more likely.

In addition to the action resulting in Lake Mead dropping roughly 7 feet lower, it could also have an impact on the hydroelectric power produced at Hoover Dam. In California alone, the cost of replacement power could be about $5 million, said Bill Hasencamp, the manager of Colorado River Resources for the Metropolitan Water District, which serves most of Southern California.

But he suggested the sacrifice was worth stabilizing Lake Powell, noting that “the proposal, based on the modeling I’ve seen, would significantly reduce the risk in the next 18 months.”

The Bureau of Reclamation had planned to release 7.48 million acre-feet from Lake Powell to Lake Mead…Under the proposed action, federal water managers contemplate leaving 480,000 acre-feet in Lake Powell…

In the letter, Tanya Trujillo, a top official with the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, asked the seven states in the Colorado River Basin to provide input on its proposed emergency action to keep more water in Lake Powell…

State officials are expected to comment on the federal emergency plan by April 22. Those comments are likely to focus, at least in part, on how the action would affect Lake Mead. Several water officials across the basin said that whatever action the federal government takes should not trigger a new series of cuts. Water reductions in Arizona, California and Nevada are based on the elevation of Lake Mead, in accordance with the basin’s Drought Contingency Plan.

“We want the outcome to be that there are no additional reductions because of holding back [the water],” said Tom Buschatzke, who leads the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

On that, there appears to be some agreement across the watershed, including within the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said “the discussion among the basin states currently, as we prepare a response back to the [Interior] Secretary, is to operate and account for the held back water in a way that avoids penalizing the Upper Basin or the Lower Basin. We’ll leave it to the [Interior] Secretary on how best to achieve that goal.” But the mechanics are still being worked out, and negotiators remain in active talks to reach a consensus decision. Although the Bureau of Reclamation’s action could temporarily halt Lake Powell’s drop for the next 18 months, it does not address the systemic issues at the center of the unfolding crisis…

The situation, Hasencamp said, underscores how tough the negotiations will be over the long-term management of the river.

“The hope is and the expectation is that we have enough agreements in place to get us through the next four years,” Hasencamp said. “The last few years have also shown us that the future risks that we were all kind of hearing about came a lot sooner — and are in our face.”

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