Outlets in Blue Mesa, other upstream reservoirs opened to raise near-critical water levels at Lake Powell – CBS Denver
(CBS4) – Amid predictions that for the first time since its original backfill, the surface of the water at Lake Powell, Arizona is likely to reach the level necessary to maintain electricity generation at its dam, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has taken the first step towards that Problem with water from upstream reservoirs.
The office announced Thursday that it is increasing the amounts of water released from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Navajo Reservoir effective immediately.
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The agency forecast last week that there was a 79% chance that Lake Powell’s water height would drop below 3,525 feet by the next year.
The agency estimates that the risk of damaging the power generating turbines of Glen Canyon Dam starts at 3,490 feet.
It is expected that the increased water released from the upstream reservoirs will raise Powell’s water level by one meter.
“We have not declared a formal emergency on the Colorado River,” said Wayne Pullan, the office’s regional director for the Upper Colorado River Region. “But,” he said, comparing it to sudden natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, “it has developed over several years.”
In a virtual press conference on Friday, Pullan and several Bureau of Reclamation officials suggested that Lake Powell water levels were nearing “critical” levels.
“The assumptions we have been working on are starting to erode,” said Pullan. “A lot of vision flowed into the drought response. Now we have reached this place. We hoped that we would never be able to go that route. But now we have to. “
Recent monitoring has shown that Lake Powell’s inflow volume decreased 2.5 million acre-feet in the first six months of 2021. The new releases will occur in the last six months.
“That doesn’t solve the whole problem, but it’s a strong mitigation measure,” said Pullan.
With the increased releases, the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, located on the Wyoming-Utah border, will lose an estimated 1.2 meters in height. The Navajo Reservoir on the Colorado-New Mexico border will drop approximately two feet.
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The Blue Mesa Reservoir in central Colorado is expected to drop 1.5 feet (2.4 meters). It will be the first to contribute and the first to return to normal performance while the others will add their water in the later months.
The publications are part of a plan drawn up in May 2019 by the Office and the participating states of Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Southern California (also known as the Colorado River Basin states). The Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) does not contain specific instructions for dealing with drought, but does imply that states will work cooperatively as in the past.
“One of the things I love about working on the Colorado River is the collaborative and collaborative attitude,” said Pullan. “We have been doing this for a long time. Each state has its own policy and priorities. But we have a tradition of working these things out. “
There is hope, but no guarantee, that the additional releases will work exactly as intended.
“If additional water needs to be moved, this will be addressed in the next few weeks,” said Christopher Cutler of the office’s water and energy services department. “We are preparing for it now. We not only model ‘normally’, but ‘dry’ and ‘extremely dry’. “
The current forecast is that Powell will receive about 30% of its average inflow over the course of 2021.
“What happened was that the inflows we received at Powell were low or record low throughout the water year,” said Heather Patno, a hydraulic engineer with the office’s Water Management Group, on Friday. “The soil is part of it, there was no spring runoff, the soil moisture was off …”
Lake Powell is considered full when its water level reaches 3,700 feet. His level on Friday was just under 3,557 feet.
This month’s publication from Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center included an article on the tributary trends of the Colorado River. It found that both Powell and Mead lost more than half of their volume from what was measured in 2000. It attributed the loss to changes in temperature.
Also on Friday, representatives from farmers, businesses, local communities and conservation groups spoke at a press conference held at Lake Mead’s Hoover Dam. They urged lawmakers and water authorities to halt future Colorado River diversion projects during the current water shortages in Powell and Mead. As an example, they cited the proposed 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline to St. George, Utah.
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