Snowpack benefits river; Lake Powell to have balanced releases

With increased runoff of 128 percent of average, Lake Powell’s operation for water year 2019 will shift to a balancing release of up to 9 million acre feet.
Photo courtesy Adam Kliczek/Wikimedia Commons

A monthly study released April 15 by the Bureau of Reclamation indicates this winter’s plentiful snowpack will benefit the Colorado River Basin through increased runoff to crucial reservoirs. With the improved hydrology, Lake Powell’s operation for water year 2019 will shift to a balancing release of up to 9.0 million acre-feet, according to a press release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin is about 130 percent of average, with a forecasted April through July inflow into Lake Powell of 9.20 maf, or 128 percent of average. That above-average inflow projection is due to extremely wet conditions in the basin during February and March, officials said. Releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead are consistent with the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“This year’s snowpack is welcome news for the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “But one good year cannot reverse the effects of nearly two decades of severe drought. Current total Colorado River System storage is approximately 45% of full capacity.”

Commissioner Burman continued, “Recent accomplishments like the drought contingency plans provide an important bridge to minimize risks from ongoing drought and gain valuable operating experience during the remaining period of the 2007 operating guidelines.”

The April 2019 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s Jan. 1, 2020 elevation to be 1,084.27 feet, almost 10 feet above the shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet. The August 2019 24-Month Study projections will be used to determine the operating tiers for Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2020.