Colorado Basin states cut back water flow to deal with low reservoir levels

Aug 16, 2013

Lake Powell Arizona, USA (from plane). Note the prominent "bathtub ring" made visible by low water (May 2007).
Credit PRA / Creative Commons

Twenty-thirteen marks the 14th year of the worst drought in the past century, so Colorado River Basin states are following 2007 agreement guidelines, and releasing less water from a major reservoir, Lake Powell.

Only 7.48 million acre feet will be released from Lake Powell next water year, down about 9% from normal levels. It’s the lowest release since the 1960s.   

John Shields, of the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, says stakeholder states, like Wyoming, are concerned about low water levels, but have been planning for them. Shields says water shortages are not expected, but communities which get electricity from the system might see higher utility bills.

“There is a likelihood that they may end up paying more for the electricity that they are receiving from the Colorado River Storage Project System, as it’s known. The reason that they might have to pay more for that electricity is that as reservoir elevations fall the amount of electricity that can be generated at those dams decreases,” Shields says. 

Between 11,000 and 12,000 customers use power generated by this system.

There is a lot of variability within the system, and good winter snow pack could help, but managers are also preparing for continuing drought.