Don’t forget Lake Powell

From 2000 through the end of 2018 (projected), Lake Powell’s elevation will have dropped approximately 94 feet despite Upper Basin consumption only averaging about 4.5 million acre?feet (maf)/year. Several particularly dry years—including 2018—in a process of continuing aridification contributed to the drop, but ultimately it is the operational rules that are slowly but surely draining Lake Powell. Through 2018, cumulative releases since 2000 from the reservoir will be approximately 11 maf higher than the 8.23 maf/year baseline traditionally utilized by Reclamation (see figure on page 3). Had those excess releases remained in Lake Powell, the lake level would not have declined. However, those extra releases—now governed by the 2007 Interim Guidelines—are the only thing that has kept Lake Mead from dropping into shortage conditions.

That’s from the a new white paper – It’s hard to fill a bathtub when the drain is wide open: The case of Lake Powell – from the folks at the Colorado River Research Group.


  1. Like James Powell said in Dead Pool, soon enough, one lake or the other’s going to have to take a permanent hit, in all likelihood, in not too many more years.

  2. First off, great title for a white paper and the term aridification seems to be catching on.

    “Our hydrology is changing; so must our water use practices.” So true but folks are diverting/pumping water like there is no tomorrow despite claims of “leaving water” in Mead. (not pointing at any one entity, a multiparty demon)

    The paper mentioned or implied thinking of upper/lower basins in a different term, perhaps as one and managing as a system rather than regions. It also spoke of how this and “tinkering” with the Law of the River are off the table but I can’t help but wonder for how long. This isn’t going to get any better.

    Finally as fun as DCP negotiations have been to watch from my vantage point in paradise, can’t wait for Interim Guidelines the Sequel to start playing out. Should be a hoot!

    (yeah, never mind that Law of the River tinkering thing)

  3. The wisest statement in the CRRG publication is “”The new framework can potentially take many forms, but at a minimum, will need to recognize the linked future of the two basins”

    I have been a strong advocate of this for over a decade. Thinking about, and managing, the upper basin and the lower basin as one system, without all the infighting between the two, is a necessary first step to any real solution.

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