The Bureau of Reclamation released its May 24-Month Study, which shows the elevation of Lake Powell declining to 3,525.57 feet as early as March 2022 under its most probable hydrology forecast. Maintaining Lake Powell elevations at or above 3,525 feet helps ensure Colorado River Compact compliance for Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and preserves hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam.
Lake Powell is currently at elevation 3,560.60 feet and is approaching its lowest recorded level since the reservoir began filling in the early 1960s. All the western states are experiencing drought.
As a result, the Upper Division States and Reclamation will begin developing a drought response operations plan to reduce the likelihood of Lake Powell dropping below the 3,525 feet level. See the news release. This action was anticipated under the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans adopted by seven western states, approved by the United States Congress and signed into law in 2019.
The ongoing drought drives home the importance of working collaboratively to protect and preserve our water. As part of the Colorado River Basin, the Virgin River is also experiencing the effects of the extended drought. In response, Washington County’s municipalities, businesses, and residents are actively pursuing Utah’s most aggressive conservation goals.
Although climate change has increased uncertainty about the duration and intensity of the drought, dry periods have occurred before. Tree ring data and human measurements confirm that the Colorado River system has experienced many cycles of drought and recovery dating back hundreds of years.
In both wet and dry cycles over the past century, the river has provided enough water to meet established uses and compact requirements. The Drought Response Operations Agreement is an important tool to help continue to meet users’ needs.
More than 60% of Utah residents directly receive Colorado River Water. The entire state enjoys the river’s economic, recreational and environmental benefits. Utah will work closely with the other Upper Basin states and Reclamation on the drought planning. Even with the dry cycles we are now experiencing, the Colorado River remains the most reliable water source in the western United States.
Given lengthy permitting processes for new water projects and population trends, it’s imperative the planning for the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) continues. Based on a 30-year historical rolling average flow of the Colorado River, the LPP is expected to use less than one percent of the water in the river system.
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