The Bureau of Reclamation announced two separate urgent drought response actions this week that aim to prop up Lake Powell by nearly 1 million acre-feet of water over the next 12 months. CRIT Chairwoman Amelia Flores responded to the news with support.
Lake Powell’s water surface elevation is at 3,522 feet, its lowest level since originally being filled in the 1960s. A critical elevation at Lake Powell is 3,490 feet, the lowest point at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower. This elevation introduces new uncertainties for reservoir operations and water deliveries because the facility has never operated under such conditions for an extended period. These two actions equate to approximately 16 feet of elevation increase.
Given the extraordinary circumstances in the Basin, Reclamation is invoking its authority to change annual operations at Glen Canyon Dam for the first time. The measure protects hydropower generation, the facility’s key infrastructure, and the water supply for the city of Page, Arizona and the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.
“Today’s decision reflects the truly unprecedented challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and will provide operational certainty for the next year,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must continue to work together to reduce uses and think of additional proactive measure we can take in the months and years ahead to rebuild our reservoirs. The Department of the Interior remains committed to addressing the challenges of climate change by using science-based, innovative strategies and working cooperatively with all the diverse communities that rely on the Colorado River. Thankfully, we have additional resources now as a result of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that can aid us in our collective efforts.”
To protect Lake Powell, more water will flow into the lake from upstream reservoirs and less water will be released downstream. Under a Drought Contingency Plan adopted in 2019, approximately 500 thousand acre-feet (kaf) of water will come from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, located approximately 455 river miles upstream of Lake Powell. Another 480 kaf will be left in Lake Powell by reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 maf to 7.0 maf.
“By working together, water users in Arizona, California and Nevada will continue to make all required shortage reductions and water savings contributions in accordance with the basin’s Drought Contingency Plan and 2007 Interim Guidelines,” said Lower Colorado Regional Director Jaci Gould. “But given the impacts of climate change, it’s clear that everyone has to do more to protect our reservoirs – and that means using water with maximum efficiency.”
The Colorado River Indian Tribes is in the process of implementing and advocating for its own drought response plans as part of the broader effort of river users to work together. CRIT plans to lease its water to others and needs legislation passed by the United States Congress to make it happen.
“Climate change has caught up to us in the Colorado River basin,” said Chairwoman Flores. “We applaud the courage of the Secretary to take emergency actions today to address the never seen critically low elevations. We continue discussions to leave more of our water in Lake Mead in 2023 as part of the 500+ Plan.”
Flores said that she hoped the new legislation will allow CRIT to be part of the solution.
“When the CRIT legislation to lease water, S. 3308, is approved by Congress, we hope to be able to provide a supply of water to others who are faced with cuts to their supplies. Our water can be delivered through the CAP and other existing methods as replacement water without the need for new infrastructure. We are doing what we can to help and encourage everyone in the basin to conserve water. Reduced water in the River may be the future for our lifetimes.”
The bill, introduced by Senator Mark Kelly, has been read and sent to congressional committee. Read the text of the bill HERE.