Drought-Induced Curb on Lake Powell Water Is First-Ever

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The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water in 17 Western states, announced its first-ever water-release reduction from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, citing the worst 14-year drought period in 100 years.

 

The 9.1 percent cutback by the largest wholesale water-supplier in the U.S. amounts to that used by 1.5 million homes. It’s the lowest water release since Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River near the Utah-Arizona border, was filled in the 1960s, the agency said today in a statement.

Enlarge image U.S. Drought-Induced Curb on Lake Powell Water Is First-Ever

 

Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in 2014, said the bureau, which constructed the Hoover Dam and brings water to about 31 million people a year. Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

 

Lake Mead, Las Vegas’s main water source, is projected to decline an additional eight feet in 2014 as a result of the lower Lake Powell annual release, the bureau said from Salt Lake City. Even so, Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in 2014, said the bureau, which constructed the Hoover Dam and brings water to about 31 million people a year.

 

Water releases are to be 7.48 million acre-feet for the year ending September 2014, down from usual releases of 8.23 million feet, and were curbed in response to extreme drought conditions in the region, the bureau said. An acre-foot is the volume needed to cover an acre of land one-foot deep with water.

 

“With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011 but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” Terry Fulp, Reclamation’s Lower Colorado regional director, said in the statement.

 

The cutback is 750,000 feet below a 2007 agreement between lower- and upper-basin states drawing from the Colorado River. That agreement doesn’t include Mexico, which is guaranteed under a different 1944 agreement, according to an Aug. 14 article by the Traverse City, Michigan-based group circleofblue.org.

 

Reclamation’s current long-term hydrologic models show a “very small chance” of lower-basin delivery shortages in 2015 with the first significant chance of reduced water deliveries in the lower basin in 2016. Projections are updated monthly.

 

The Colorado River that ends in a trickle in the Sea of Cortez is the most endangered river in the U.S., stressed by the water needs of residents and irrigated acreage along its length, according to the environmental group American Rivers.

 

Lake Mead is on the Nevada-Arizona state line.