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Is Powell Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Is Powell Half-Full or Half-Empty?
August 22
13:50 2016

Lake Powell is over half full as of August 22.

The past fifteen-year period has been one of the driest on record for the upper basin. According to the Aspen Daily News, this situation has management of the Colorado River District studying “what if” scenarios. The fifteen-year period from 2000 to 2015 had the lowest inflows into Lake Powell since 1963 dam completion. Even with average precipitation in Colorado the past three years, managers are concerned about what would happen if a drought as severe as 2000-2006 were to occur when Lake Powell is at a half-full level.

According to a risk study by Erick Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, there are a number of actions that are triggered by lower lake levels that would keep Lake Powell from going empty. New transmountain water diversion projects in Colorado could be put on hold if they can only be used occasionally. Water can be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River, Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River, and Blue Mesa on the Gunnison River. Water demand can be managed by reducing or curtailing water use by ranchers and farmers.

The complicated Colorado River Compact uses water levels in Lake Powell to manage the upper basin delivery of water from Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to the lower basin states of California and Arizona. At elevation 3525 feet, Lake Powell’s management guidelines for outflow are changed. At elevation 3490 feet, minimum power pool is reached, halting the generation of $120 million of electricity yearly, much of it being sold to Colorado.

Lake Powell Water Database (www.lakepowell.water-data.com ) gives the lake elevation today as 3615.19 feet, about 85 feet below full pool and 125 feet above minimum power pool. While Lake Powell is functioning as it should in meeting the needs of water users downstream, prolonged drought could require changes to reservoir operation and upstream management of the Colorado River.

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