Spring is here and with it comes time to address one of my favorite topics – How High Will Lake Powell Get This Year.
I usually write this post after we know Lake Powell has bottomed out for the water year but we are still a week or so away from that. However, this year there are other factors in play as opposed to what we typically look at which is how much snow pack is in our drainage area.
Due to a protracted, multi year drought which has severely impacted Lake Mead, a plan was made for equalization of water storage between Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In simplified terms, if Lake Mead continues to suffer shortages, Lake Powell will release more than the necessary legal allotment of water from the 1922 compact which determines water releases.
Heather Rankin is a Realtor specializing in the Lake Powell areas of Page, AZ, 86040 and Greenehaven, AZ as well as Big Water, UT, 84741 including new home sales at Indigo Ridge and Toroweap Townhomes in Page.
A Bit of History on Water
Lake Powell and Lake Mead work together to provide a stable water supply to the states of California, Arizona and Nevada. The drought that has been ongoing since 1999 has caused our water storage to shrink. Currently Lake Powell is at 52.78% of water capacity while Lake Mead is at 43.18% (as of April 1, 2011).
Lake Powell has done it’s job these past years in providing water downstream even when infow to the lake was significantly less that what was going out. According to Colorado Compact signed in 1922 by the seven states of the Colorado River Basin, Lake Powell needs to release 8.23 million acre feet (maf) of water a year.
One maf is 325,826 gallons and is roughly enough for a family of 4 or 5 for a year. The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires that Lake Powell (storage facility for the upper states of UT, CO, NM and WY ~ the savings account) release 8.23 maf of water to the lower states of AZ, NV, CA and Mexico. The water after it leaves Lake Powell hits Lake Mead (checking account)
Cities around the lower basin states, while noticing some drought conditions, have not been adversely affected to the point of people having to relocate. As a nation we have built large cities in pretty hostile environments, ie, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Real Estate in many places in the West would be uninhabitable without the water provided by the Colorado River.
In the past it has been pretty easy science to call the top out elevation of Lake Powell within a foot or so, however, this year, with the equalization possibility, not so.
Forecast for Lake Powell 2011
Currently Lake Powell is 88.94 feet below full pool elevation of 3700 feet above sea level. Our snow pack in the upper drainage area, about 110,000 square miles, is high sitting at 118% of average. Of course, this is the desert and not much average ever happens here.
If current conditions continue it looks like we are going to receive @ 9.2 maf of water during our unregulated spring runoff or about 116% of average. This will kick in the equalization plan, and require Lake Powell to release @ 11.63 maf of water as opposed to the 1922 compact amount of 8.23 maf.
Lake Powell could get as high as 3680 feet above sea level (about 20 feet low) this year if everything were to line up with the melting of the snowpack in our drainage area. It looks more likely that we will be somewhere about the 3645 mark, leaving us 55 feet from full pool.
As more information is released on the water this year, I’ll post it here. Not a typical spring water forecast so far!