Interior Department may limit Lake Powell water releases |

Interior Department may limit Lake Powell water releases

Another sign of the challenges facing the Colorado River

Chris Outcalt
The Colorado Sun
In this July 31, 2021 photo, a boat cruises along Lake Powell near Page, Ariz. At the time of this photo, the elevation of Lake Powell fell below 3,525 feet, a record low that surpassed a critical threshold. Since then, drought conditions in the West have led levels of water in the lake to drop nearer to 3,490 feet, the point at which the dam will no longer be able to generate electricity. On April 12, the elevation was 3,522.8 feet.
Rick Bowmer/AP

In an effort to protect the infrastructure at Lake Powell and the ability of Glen Canyon Dam to generate electricity, the U.S. Department of the Interior may keep nearly a half million acre-feet of water in the Utah reservoir instead of releasing that water to the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada this year as scheduled.

Although it’s not clear the Department of Interior proposal would have any immediate impact on Colorado, it highlights the challenges of balancing a system relied on by 40 million people that has been taxed by water users and climate change. It’s also a reminder of the dire assessment of water in the West amid the driest two-decade stretch in the past 1,200 years.

Tonya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science, sent a letter on Friday to all seven Colorado River Basin states outlining the need to potentially hold back the water and the challenges that exist if Lake Powell were to fall below 3,490 feet above sea level, the lowest level at which the dam can generate electricity.

As of Monday, the Lake Powell water level was at 3,522 feet. That level is expected to rise with spring runoff. However, long-term projections show Powell could dip closer to 3,490 feet as soon as next year.

“In such circumstances, Glen Canyon Dam facilities face unprecedented operational reliability challenges,” Trujillo wrote. Water users across the West and Southwest, she wrote, are now dealing with increased uncertainty surrounding water and power supplies.

If 480,000 acre-feet of water were held back it would constitute a 6.5% reduction in the volume of water released for the water year, which runs from October through September. Trujillo wrote in the letter that the potential action would be authorized under the 2007 Interim Guidelines, a document agreed upon by all seven states that guides water deliveries throughout the basin. The contents of Trujillo’s letter was first published by the Arizona Daily Star.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

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