Folks on the Colorado River upstream of Lake Mead are sounding a little nervous.
Dennis Webb had a very nice piece in the Grand Junction Sentinel over the weekend taking stock. Meet Colorado rancher Carlyle Currier:
When he hears that Lake Mead’s water level is at a historic low, he worries about the degree to which Powell may be relied on to stabilize Mead’s water supply.
That Lake Powell supply is water that Colorado and other states in the upper basin of that Colorado River scarcely can afford to let go, Currier said.
Currier and others involved in water policy in western Colorado see Lake Powell as a bank account for upper basin states, ensuring their ability to fulfill their water delivery obligation to lower basin states under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Lower basin states are using more Colorado River water than they are entitled to under the compact — a rate that has proven to be an unsustainable during a decade of drought and has drawn down Lake Mead.
“If we are required to allow too much water to meet the needs of the lower basin … and those that benefit from Lake Mead, well, that puts us in jeopardy of lowering Lake Powell too much and getting us in real trouble if we do have another severe drought like 2002,” Currier said.
It’s not a far-fetched fear. Recall the folks I talked to at Lake Mead last month, who argued that the solution to their lake’s problems was to release more water from Lake Powell upstream. While the current legal structure makes that difficult beyond efforts to equalize the contents of the two reservoirs so that they can, in theory, share both surplus and shortage, it’s a common line of argument.
- Lake Powell: 15.2 million acre feet
- Lake Mead: 10.0 maf