Deadpool Diaries: Colorado River Report Card, May 2023 – please tell us your plan

Graph showing increased flow this year on the Colorado River at Lees Ferry gauge

The Bureau of Reclamation is currently blasting water out the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam as Lake Powell rises with this year’s big snowmelt.

(The big spike is an experimental flow pulse.)

Lake Mead, as a result, is rising for the first time in a while, with the wrecked speedboats disappearing – and with it, the apparent sense of urgency about cutting our water use.

Downstream the big ag districts and municipalities are taking advantage of the wet year to put off decisions about how, in the long term, to bring water use into balance with available supply.

The Lower Basin Structural Deficit, Circa 2023

The classic Reclamation “structural deficit” slide put the gap between available water and use when the Upper Basin meets its legal delivery requirement, and folks in the Lower Basin take their full allotment, at 1.2 million acre feet per year.

Under the latest official Reclamation forecast, the Lower Basin states are reducing their use by 756,000 acre feet below their nominal 7.5 million acre foot allotments. Yay for using less water! But it still falls short of the 1.2 million acre feet needed to close the structural deficit, and is far less than the amount that might be needed to refill a bit, to provide a safety cushion against a run of bad years. The only reason Lake Mead is projected to rise this year is thanks to a big snowpack and a bunch of resulting bonus water from the Upper Basin.

Here are the numbers, with officially forecast 2023 use in millions of acre feet as of May 10, 2023

2023        pct
California 4.196 95.4%
Arizona 2.334 83.4%
Nevada 0.214 71.3%


In other words, the pattern of Lower Basin water users putting off hard decisions about reducing their use, depending instead on Upper Basin bonus water, continues. (See “Hookers and Blow on the Lower Colorado River” – this has been going on a while.)

It is possible that Lower Basin use is gonna drop more this year than the official forecast suggests, that the current 5up3r 53cr3t talking now underway will yield more water use reductions. I keep hearing that. I keep not seeing it in the official numbers.

Upper Basin Water Use Reduction Efforts

According to the Denver Post’s Conrad Swanson, quoting the Upper Basin’s Chuck Cullom, the Upper Basin’s system conservation program hasn’t come up with much water either

If each of the program’s approved applications works out as expected the upper-basin can expect to save about 39,000 acre-feet at a cost of about $16 million, Cullom said.

Please tell us your plan

That’s it. That’s my ask of the Colorado River Basin leadership community.

Tell us your plan.

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  1. Not that I really want the drought to continue given the challenges that presents, this wet year has set us back when it comes to realistically dealing with the water situation. It’s like education and covid. We’ve lost ground!

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