ENVIRONMENT

Feds adopt emergency Colorado River plan that aims to save Lake Powell and Lake Mead

Mar 6, 2024, 3:36 PM

Lake Powell "bathtub ring" indicates the need for Colorado River plan...

Lake Powell’s “bathtub ring”, a light-colored coating of mineral deposits left during periods of higher water on the reservoir, is seen on canyon walls on Oct. 6, 2022, near Bullfrong. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal officials are enacting a “significant” emergency Colorado River plan they believe will reduce water consumption by at least 3 million acre-feet over the next few years.

Department of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday released a final impact statement tied to a near-term plan addressing operations at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams between now and the end of 2026, which is the end of the existing Colorado River Basin agreement.

It almost finalizes the deal all of the Colorado River Basin entities, including Utah, agreed to in October, with the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada reducing their use of the river during that time. In exchange, the states will receive over $1 billion from federal funds dedicated to climate impacts.

The agencies also announced new agreements with three California water districts that are expected to save about 400,000 acre-feet on top of what the states had agreed on, for nearly $160 million in additional funds. Lake Powell, by the Utah-Arizona border, and Lake Mead are projected to be able to hold more water with all of the deals in place.

“(This) is a really big deal,” said Laura Daniel-Davis, acting deputy secretary of the Interior, in a call with reporters.

A short-term solution

More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for water in the West, including many Utahns. More than half of all Utahns are directly benefited by the river, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources.

But the river — like many Utah bodies of water — has struggled through the West’s megadrought. Federal agencies started reviewing options to reduce water consumption within the basin after Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the nation’s two largest reservoirs — each fell to levels that threatened dam functions, including producing electricity for nearby communities amid a severe drought that impacted the West.

Their conditions sparked conversations about how to reduce water consumption to stop both reservoirs from reaching critically low levels before the next water agreement begins in 2027.

Both reservoirs received a boost from the region’s robust snowpack runoff last spring; however, federal officials noted both remain at risk. Lake Powell is currently a little more than 3,561 feet elevation, about one-third of full capacity, but possibly in line for another recharge with the region’s snowpack conditions. Lake Mead is in a slightly better situation, at about 37% of capacity.

That’s where the agreement comes into play. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called the states’ plan to save about 3 million acre-feet through cuts to the Lower Basin states a “win for everybody” when the states submitted the plan to the federal government in May 2023.

Federal officials agree. Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, said Tuesday the “significant milestone” is expected to ensure neither reservoir falls to “critically low” levels before the 2027 Colorado River agreement is completed.

“This historic agreement has given us the breathing room to focus on the long-term,” she said.

Touton is also optimistic about the upcoming spring snowmelt, which may provide an additional bump to both reservoirs this spring. Both precipitation and snowpack levels across the basin are near the region’s median average with about a month left in the snowpack collection process.

A long-term solution

Meanwhile, work on a new 2027 agreement is beginning to pick up. The Department of Interior is scheduled to begin work on an environmental impact statement on the 2027 plan this year; a draft is projected to be released to the public by the end of the year, according to Daniel-Davis.

She explained the agency will go through another lengthy process that draws in feedback from all the people who rely on the Colorado River, from states to tribal nations. The ultimate goal is to avoid the same “dire circumstances” that prompted emergency actions now being implemented, which may be complicated by the differences between the states using the river’s water.

The U.S. will also work with Mexico — another water rights holder — in these discussions, said Michael Brain, the Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science.

“We are not expecting every single issue to be smoothed out between the Upper and Lower Basins tomorrow, but … we are all committed to a basin-wide solution, and we’ll continue to work collaboratively through any major sticking points until a consensus has been reached,” Daniel-Davis said. “There is no doubt that it will take all of us to get this right. … Failure is not an option.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Environment

One of several dead squirrels found by a Millcreek resident, leaving many people concerned to what'...

Lindsay Aerts

Dead foxes and squirrels puzzle Millcreek neighborhood

A neighborhood in Millcreek is puzzled by some strange things happening with foxes and squirrels where they live.

23 hours ago

Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir is sitting at capacity with a 12-foot depth in its deepest spots this M...

Andrew Adams

Sandy eyes forecast with runoff expected to increase

Eyes were on the forecast Thursday with a key reservoir sitting at capacity, and runoff waters expected to increase in the weeks to come.

2 days ago

A quagga dip tank at Lake Powell, as a boat enters the tank to be decontaminated from quagga mussel...

Mike Anderson

DWR discovers more efficient way to decontaminate boats from quagga mussels

The lines to decontaminate boats from quagga mussels was once hours long, but DWR has developed a new way for boats to exit the line in just minutes.

3 days ago

The Lucin Cutoff is seen in a flight over the Great Salt Lake on April 9. The Great Salt Lake's sou...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Great Salt Lake’s southern arm reaches ‘significant’ level as spring rise slows down

The Great Salt Lake's southern arm has reached a "significant" level before the lake's expected summer drop.

3 days ago

A Mormon cricket in Nevada grass...

Debbie Worthen

Small town swarmed by Mormon crickets; ‘It’s pretty disgusting’

Mormon crickets are a species of insect that has seen a resurgence in recent years due to drought and are out again this year in full force in Northern Nevada and some parts of Utah.

4 days ago

Boats on the surface of the human-made Lake Powell in May 2024. It fills Glen Canyon by way of the ...

Daniel Woodruff

‘Big summer’ expected at Lake Powell as water levels keep rising

Lake Powell is on the rebound after another strong snowpack. While it’s still well below full capacity, the lake is rising a little bit each day, with roughly another 28 feet of water expected by the end of July.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Feds adopt emergency Colorado River plan that aims to save Lake Powell and Lake Mead