To use or refill? (a good mid-March Colorado River Basin forecast raises the question)

With more wet in the forecast, the latest numbers from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center look very good right now:

The active weather pattern that began around mid-February continued through mid-March across the region. Precipitation was above to well above normal across most of the region during the first half of March. March 1-16 precipitation in the UCRB ranged from 80% of normal in the Colorado Headwaters above Kremmling to 275% of normal in the Duchesne River Basin. In the LCRB, March 1-16 precipitation ranged from 110% of normal in the Upper Gila River Basin to 285% of normal in the Virgin River Basin. Precipitation generally exceeded 200% of normal during the first half of March in the GB.

Graph from Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showing unregulated inflow to Lake Powell at nearly 5 million acre feet above average.

A good runoff forecast

This poses a really interesting question for water managers: Do we keep our water conservation foot firmly on the throttle (or brake? a metaphorical muddle?) and use this year’s bonus water to refill the reservoirs? Or do we back off the throttle (brake?) and let some of bonus water flow to users?

As always, a huge thanks to Inkstain’s supporters for making this possible


  1. It all depends on what we think is coming next. My assumption is that the extremes will increase – wetter wets and dryer dries.

    If the decadal average remains the same, then we are still “over allocated”, and so the only responsible policies are “pedal to the metal” on water efficiency. And perhaps even more importantly, stop subsidizing growth. (First law of holes . . .)

  2. Why do we have reservoirs? Aren’t they to store water?
    Isn’t the general problem not having enough water to go around? If so, the job is to decide how to live with less.
    Shouldn’t the state allocations be reset to know how much conservation is needed?
    Isn’t it likely that some things using water now may not be able to anymore? What might they be?
    Do you change the overall planning direction because 1 year out of 20 is different?
    Another shaky metaphor is addiction. (“users”) If you are trying to quit a smoking addiction by withdrawal, will another cigarette help? From personal experience, no.

  3. I’m with Doug on this. Keep the brakes on and let the reservoirs fill. It will take several bonus years like this even to make progress in the big picture.

    I’m also thinking about the ‘Dead Pool’ aspect and how bad things could be.

  4. I’m with those who are advocating to continue with conservation and save water if we’re able. To let people fall back into old, bad habits again makes no sense to me. We’ve had nearly 22 years of drought leading to aridification. One good water season is not going to make a significant change. Need to wait and see how this all plays out. The forecast for the CR remains bleak. John, I published my column which includes a quote from you following our email communication on Utah’s bill that has changed our water use calculation from diversion/depletion to consumption. I hope it reads ok to you!

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