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Operation begins for Lake Powell conservation effort

New operational adjustments to protect Lake Powell in Arizona have already been taken into account for operations at Lake Mead and will not adversely affect it.

On Tuesday, May 3, the Bureau of Reclamation announced two actions to help maintain the water level in Lake Powell. One is to reduce Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release of water to 7.0 million acre-feet from 7.48 million acre-feet. The second is that 500,000 acre-feet of water will come to the lake from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir is about 455 river miles upstream from Lake Powell.

These two actions are expected to prop up the water level of Lake Powell by 1 million acre-feet over the next 12 months and lead to an increased elevation of 16 feet. They will also not adversely affect Lake Mead’s water operations.

“The current operational adjustments designed to protect Lake Powell elevations will be offset by the increased conservation of water in Lake Mead through the 500 Plus Plan,” said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region. “That plan is designed to save up to 1 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over 2022 and 2023.”

Aaron said the 500 Plus Plan was signed in December 2021 and is a 50/50 agreement among Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve water in Lake Mead.

The goal is to keep the lake from hitting a critical level that would leave the reservoir more vulnerable to rapid decline.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell’s water level is 3,522 feet, the lowest it’s been since it was filled in the 1960s. Its critical elevation is 3,490 feet. That is the lowest point at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower.

“Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must continue to work together to reduce uses and think of additional proactive measures we can take in the months and years ahead to rebuild our reservoirs,” said Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo in a press release. “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.”

To reduce the amount of water released from Glen Canyon Dam, Reclamation will keep the 350,000 acre-feet of water that was held back earlier this year and will hold back an additional 130,000 acre-feet before Sept. 30, the end of the water year. Reclamation will account for this temporary reduction so that it does not penalize either basin by triggering a new series of required releases or shortage determinations.

“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 in a press release. “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.”

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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