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Colorado River system poised for first-ever official shortages

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-17 20:16:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — States relying on the Colorado River system for much of their water are bracing for declarations of shortage soon.

Such a declaration would be unprecedented. It would mandate steps to store water in Lake Powell from smaller reservoirs upstream, like Utah's Flaming Gorge, that have more robust levels.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a 24-month projection for Lake Powell in the spring showing they expect the lake to drop below 3,525 feet around March of 2022.

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Democrats on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee have emphasized an agreement between the Upper Colorado states, including Utah, that if the lake drops below 3,525 feet in elevation, they need to take steps to provide more water from reservoirs like Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo.

Lake Mead, the other mega-reservoir in the Colorado System, has already reached their trigger point and lower basin states have been planning for an expected official declaration of shortage in August.

The reservoir system has propped up what seems like an unsustainable system. The states and Mexico have parceled out rights to 16.5 million acre-feet of water from a river that has only provided about 13 million acre-feet a year this century, according to research by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Colorado system reservoirs can hold more than 61 million acre-feet of water...though at this time the whole system sits at 40 percent of that.

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Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Colorado River in Colorado can hold 830 thousand acre-feet of water...but is at 384 thousand now, which is only 46% full.

Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and Colorado is on the San Juan River. It's at 65% of its 1.7 million acre-foot capacity.

Flaming Gorge in Utah and Wyoming is at 83% of its 3.7 million acre-foot capacity.

Those three reservoirs put together are small compared to the big two.

Lake Powell can hold over 24 million acre-feet of water. Right now it has about 8 million, which is about 34 percent capacity.

And Lake Mead's capacity of 26 million acre-feet sits at 9 million, 35 percent of full.