Colorado River Lower Basin water users leaving nearly 500,000 acre feet in Lake Mead this year

I’m happy (nay enthusiastic!) to point out the way Lake Mead keeps dropping, but it’s worth nothing this as well: Colorado River water use in Arizona, Nevada, and California this year is currently forecast at 7.006 million acre feet (source: pdf), well below the three states’ nominal legal entitlement of 7.5 million acre feet.

The current forecast:

  • Arizona: 92 percent of its 2.8 maf entitlement
  • California: 95 percent of its 4.4 maf entitlement
  • Nevada: 84 percent of its 300,000 acre foot entitlement

This is important. The problem we face in the Colorado River Basin is that there’s less actual wet water in the system than there is legal entitlement to water. As long as people keep taking their full legal entitlement, the system keeps pushing toward a crash. These numbers reflect a conscious effort by Lower Basin water users and system managers to grapple with that reality.

In combination with a release of extra water this year from Lake Powell, upstream, the Lower Basin demand management underway now is enough to hold Lake Mead to a forecast drop of 1.6 feet in 2016 (source: pdf). That’s still a drop, but nothing like the 7 to 14 foot annual drop we’ve seen in the last few years. Not enough, but headed in the right direction.


  1. In 2014, the U.S. released more than 100,000 acre-feet of water at Morelos Dam near Yuma, Arizona, to restore wildlife and native plant habitats in the Colorado River Delta downstream. But researchers found something unexpected: When water rushed over the dry riverbed for the first time in two decades, methane and carbon dioxide bubbles popped up in the sand, which could have an impact on the global carbon cycle and affect future river restoration. (High Country News, 07-26-2016)

  2. John, first let me start by saying how great it was to meet you in Cortez a few weeks ago at the Southwest Basin Roundtable meeting! I am a big fan of yours and it was a pleasure!!

    Second, could we purchase your new book from you and get it signed?? If so, how do we contact you with the cc information?

    Finally, I was curious why, as this article stated, “I’m happy (nay enthusiastic!) to point out the way Lake Mead keeps dropping…”?

    Thank you in advance, Best, and keep up the great work 🙂

  3. Denise –

    It was great meeting you, thanks for stopping by the blog.

    The line about my “enthusiasm” about a dropping Lake Mead was poorly articulated self-deprecating schtick, a poke at the journalistic enthusiasm I’ve brought over many years to coverage of the reservoir’s problems. Every time I write about Mead’s problems, I get big blog traffic, and the incentives of journalism are all about that. Bad news sells.

    And I’m not sure about how to do the logistics of getting you a signed book, I’ll figure it out and get back to you.

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