For Mead, Time’s Up

April 1 Lake Powell inflow forecast, courtesy Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

April 1 Lake Powell inflow forecast, courtesy Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

With the Colorado River forecasts out this week, I’m ready to call it: there won’t be enough water in the river for an extra water release this year from Lake Powell to help bolster the levels in the shrinking Lake Mead. Those declining red dots, month by month in the graph above, tell the story.

The official word won’t come until Friday at the earliest, when the  Bureau of Reclamation releases its April “24-month study”. But the forecast data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center shows a median inflow into Lake Powell of just 63 percent of normal for the April-July period.

Under the river’s operating rules, if there is extra water in Lake Powell, it can be released downstream to bolster levels in Lake Mead. But 63 percent doesn’t leave any extra. The decision on this year’s releases is done now, based on the best forecast of what Powell’s levels will be at on Sept. 30.

As I’ve written previously, this means that come June, Lake Mead could unequivocally drop to its lowest levels since the it was first filled in the 1930s. I think I’ll plan a trip out that way, to see it for myself.


  1. I was chatting recently with Bill Patzert, the JPL oceanographer who first predicted long term drought for the Colorado, and he was saying exactly the same thing about June and Mead.

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  3. Emily –

    I’ve always thought that it was Linda Nash and Peter Gleick, back in 1991, who first predicted it (Sensitivity of streamflow in the Colorado Basin to climatic changes, Journal of Hydrology
    Volume 125, Issues 3-4, July 1991, Pages 221-241). Though in that paper they cite a bunch of even earlier work that pointed in the same direction.

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