SALT LAKE CITY — A new study released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts a release of up to 9 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead this year, which means a possible shortage declaration looming in 2020 might be averted.
The snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is about 130 percent of average, with flows into Lake Powell predicted to be 128 percent of average during the runoff season.
According to the bureau's 24 month operational study, the projected release will be updated each month and reflect the fluctuating levels at Lake Mead. Lake Mead’s Jan. 1, 2020, elevation is forecast to be 1,084.27 feet, almost 10 feet above the shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet.
“This year’s snowpack is welcome news for the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “But one good year cannot reverse the effects of nearly two decades of severe drought. Current total Colorado River System storage is approximately 45 percent of full capacity.”
The seven basin states recently approved drought contingency plans, endorsed by Congress and awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.
Should Lake Mead drop below the 1,075 elevation, that would trigger shortages for Arizona and California.14 comments on this story
The contingency plans are designed to provide a workaround among all the states to reduce consumption and still ensure adequate delivery of water to the lower basin.
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the upper basin states are required to not allow the flow of the river at Lee's Ferry to drop below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet for any period of 10 consecutive years.
In fact, a 2012 benchmark study by the bureau showed that in the previous 10 years, the upper basin delivered more than 92 million acre-feet of water to the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California — or 17 million acre-feet more than what was required under the compact.