The Bureau of Reclamation is taking emergency measures to keep Lake Powell from falling to critically low levels. The contingency operations call for releasing water from three reservoirs, including Flaming Gorge, to give Lake Powell a small boost.
But the group Save The Colorado is calling the plan a "Band-Aid" and said it won't be enough to save Lake Powell.
Pictures this year have shown the situation at Lake Powell. Low levels revealed boat wrecks and places to camp that used to be underwater. Boat ramps have had to close down.
Numbers recently released by the Bureau of Reclamation give that same picture in numbers.
"The July 2021 Operation Plan for Colorado River System Reservoirs 24-Month Study (July 24-Month Study) shows that the Lake Powell water year 2021 predicted unregulated inflow volume has decreased 2.5 million acre-feet in the six-month period between January and July 2021," the Bureau stated in a press release. "The current forecast for WY2021 is 3.23 maf (30% of average)."
Five-year projections, also just released, show there's a 79 percent chance Lake Powell will fall below the 3,525-foot target elevation. That elevation is in place, the Bureau of Reclamation explained, to allow for a 35-foot buffer above the minimum elevation of 3,490 feet.
That minimum elevation, the Bureau of Reclamation explained, is in place to protect Glen Canyon Dam infrastructure and to "meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada."
"The plan to try to save the hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam right now involves taking water out of Flaming Gorge, out of Blue Mesa in Colorado, and out of Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico," explained Gary Wockner, the director of Save The Colorado.
According to Bureau of Reclamation numbers, 69 percent of that water will come from Flaming Gorge. Blue Mesa will provide 19 percent, and Navajo Reservoir will supply 11 percent.
That water is expected to raise Lake Powell's elevation by three feet.
"This doesn't actually fix anything," Wockner said. "It doesn't create any new water at all. It just moves the water around. And so, it's a very temporary way to address the issue. It's a Band-Aid."
Save The Colorado, along with Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers, filed a lawsuit back in 2019 in regards to climate change and Glen Canyon Dam. The lawsuit claims that the federal government ignored climate change science in its Drought Contingency Plan and also failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
"This year, the flows are actually even 50 percent less than what we sued them over," Wockner explained.
The lawsuit, which Wockner said is still in federal district court in Prescott, Arizona, asks the Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation to redo an alternatives analysis.
"Everything that the climate scientists have predicted could happen, does appear to be happening," Wockner said. "And the Bureau of Reclamation Department of Interior haven't planned for it in how they manage that dam. And so now they-re in, quote-unquote — it's their word — 'emergency.'"
In the most recent release, the Bureau of Reclamation stated that the agency and the Colorado River Basin states "continue to work together cooperatively to closely monitor projections and conditions and are prepared to take additional measures in accordance with the DROA [Drought Response Operations Agreement]."
Wockner and Save The Colorado argue there are additional measures that can be taken — like doing away with Glen Canyon Dam altogether.
"Glen Canyon Dam is almost primarily a hydropower plant, and there's lots of other ways to make electricity rather than use the water of the Colorado river," Wockner said.
The Reclamation said it continues to remain committed to reducing the collective risk of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead falling to critical elevations, "and will continue to work with entities in the Colorado River Basin to ensure that both facilities continue to function as authorized to meet the natural, municipal and agricultural needs of the basin."