SCGA Public Affairs


Tuesday, August 16, 2022



From the United States Bureau of Reclamation:

As the worsening drought crisis continues to impact communities across the West, the Department of the Interior today announced urgent action to improve and protect the long–term sustainability of the Colorado River System, including commitments for continued engagement with impacted states and Tribes. The Bureau of Reclamation also released the Colorado River Basin August 2022 24–Month Study, which sets the annual operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2023 in light of critically low reservoir conditions.

“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency. In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The Interior Department is employing prompt and responsive actions and investments to ensure the entire Colorado River Basin can function and support all who rely on it. We are grateful for the hardworking public servants who have dedicated their lives to this work, and who are passionate about the long–term sustainability of Basin states, Tribes, and communities.”

2023 Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead

Given the 23-year ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin, downstream releases from Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams – which created Lakes Powell and Mead – will be reduced again in 2023 due to declining reservoir levels. In the Lower Basin, the reductions represent the second year of additional shortage declarations, demonstrating the severity of the drought and critically low reservoir conditions.

The key determinations from the August 2022 24-Month Study include:

  • Lake Powell will operate in the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier in water year 2023 (Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023). The 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell’s Jan. 1, 2023, water surface elevation to be 3,521.84 feet – 178 feet below full pool (3,700 feet) and 32 feet above minimum power pool (3,490 feet). The August 24-Month Study projects that Lake Powell will likely release 7 million acre-feet in water year 2023 with the potential for Powell releases to range between 7 to 9.5 maf during water year 2023, depending on hydrologic conditions, as Lake Powell and Lake Mead balance storage contents under the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier.
    • The Department will evaluate hydrologic conditions in April 2023 and will implement the Interim Guidelines Section 7.D by limiting water year 2023 releases (with a minimum of 7.0 maf) to protect Lake Powell from declining below 3,525 feet at the end of December 2023.
  • Lake Mead will operate in its first-ever Level 2a Shortage Condition in calendar year 2023 (Jan. 1, 2023, through Dec. 31, 2023). The August 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s Jan. 1, 2023, operating determination elevation to be 1,047.61 feet, which is calculated by taking Lake Mead’s projected end of calendar year 2022 physical elevation (1,040.78 feet) and adding the 480,000 acre-feet of water held back in Lake Powell to Lake Mead’s capacity to maintain operational neutrality. The projected elevation of 1,047.61 feet reflects a Level 2a Shortage Condition, within the DCP elevation band of 1,045 and 1,050 feet, with required shortage reductions and water savings contribution for the Lower Basin States and Mexico, pursuant to
    Minute 323, as follows:
    • Arizona: 592,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 21% of the state’s annual apportionment
    • Nevada: 25,000 acre-feet, which is 8% of the state’s annual apportionment
    • Mexico: 104,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 7% of the country’s annual allotment

There is no required water savings contribution for California in 2023 under this operating condition.

In May 2022, drought operations to protect Lake Powell were implemented under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement, and Glen Canyon Dam releases were reduced under the 2007 Interim Guidelines, which together provided approximately 1 million acre–feet of additional water to help protect water levels at Lake Powell. Building on these important responsive actions, Reclamation will begin efforts to modify low reservoir operations at both Lake Powell and Lake Mead to be prepared to reduce releases from these reservoirs in 2024 to address continued drought and low runoff conditions in the Basin.

Reclamation will continue to implement the applicable provisions of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and coordinated operations for both reservoirs.

Call for Basin–Wide Conservation

In recent months, Reclamation has shared updated information documenting the increasing risks that will continue to impact Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Reclamation’s “Protection Volume Analysis” details that, depending on future snowpack and runoff, a range of actions will be needed to stabilize elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead over the next four years (2023–2026). The analysis shows, depending on Lake Powell’s inflow, that the additional water or conservation needed ranges from 600,000 acre–feet to 4.2 maf annually.

In June 2022, Commissioner Touton testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and called on water users across the Basin to take actions to prevent the reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production. Reclamation is using the best available science and actively collaborating with water users across the Basin to determine the best ways to meet this increased conservation need.

Accordingly, in addition to undertaking preliminary work to develop the post–2026 strategies and operations, as several reservoir and water management decision documents expire at the end of 2026, Reclamation will immediately initiate a number of administrative actions in the Basin.
In the Lower Basin, Reclamation will:

  • Take administrative actions needed to further define reservoir operations at Lake Mead, including shortage operations at elevations below 1,025 feet to reduce the risk of Lake Mead declining to critically low elevations.
  • Prioritize and prepare for additional administrative initiatives that would ensure maximum efficient and beneficial use of urban and agricultural water, and address evaporation, seepage and other system losses in the Lower Basin.
  • Support technical studies to ascertain if physical modifications can be made to Hoover Dam to allow water to be pumped/released from elevations below currently identified dead pool elevations.
  • Invest in system conservation and voluntary agreements.
  • Consider other operational actions to establish flexibility in Lower Basin operations at Reclamation facilities.

The Department’s approach will continue to seek consensus support and will be based on a continued commitment to engage with partners across the Basin states, Tribes, and the country of Mexico to ensure all communities that rely on the Colorado River will provide contributions toward the solutions.

# # # # # # # # # # #

While California isn’t facing immediate cuts in its Colorado River allocations, it’s clear that the federal government is looking to California for voluntary “contributions” between now and 2026, when current federal compacts expire. Clearer is that California’s take from the Colorado River is very much on the table during negotiations for the new agreements between the seven (7) western states that form the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River Basin. In other words, California has a little breathing space to figure out how to accommodate the lessened snowpacks cum runoff in the Colorado Basin and the Sierra Nevada caused by aridification. Not much breathing space but certainly more than our neighbors in Arizona and Nevada, most especially Arizona.

Given that the seven Western States are still under a directive from the federal government to come to agreement on now to permanently reduce their allocation by some 2-4 million-acre feet or risk another federal directive like the one issued today by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California is hardly out of the woods. Thursday’s Golf & Water Summit couldn’t have been timed better, and the active participation of so many senior Metropolitan Water District staffers couldn’t have been more relevant to the discussion.

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