Feds hold back planned water release as Lake Powell hits all-time low

The Interior Department announced Tuesday that it will delay a planned release of water from Lake Powell as a measure against a drought that has plunged the reservoir’s water to unprecedented levels.

The department’s Bureau of Reclamation will hold back nearly 480,000 acre-feet of water in the Colorado River reservoir from release, according to the announcement.

Lake Powell is currently at an all-time low surface elevation of 3,522 ft. The minimum level at which the Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower is 3,490 ft., according to the bureau.

Ordinarily, the water would be released downstream to Lake Mead, the other major Colorado River reservoir. Interior projected that withholding the water will prop up the reservoir for an additional 12 months.

In addition to withholding the release, Interior officials will also release about 500,000 acre-feet into the reservoir from the upstream Flaming Gorge reservoir.

“Today’s decision reflects the truly unprecedented challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and will provide operational certainty for the next year. Everyone who relies on the Colorado River must continue to work together to reduce uses and think of additional proactive measures we can take in the months and years ahead to rebuild our reservoirs,” Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said in a statement.

“The Department of the Interior remains committed to addressing the challenges of climate change by using science-based, innovative strategies and working cooperatively with all the diverse communities that rely on the Colorado River,” she added. “Thankfully, we have additional resources now as a result of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that can aid us in our collective efforts.”

The announcement comes the year after a summer that brought extreme drought conditions to the Western U.S., including the first-ever water shortage declaration for Lake Mead. In August, the reservoir reached a level of just 1,067 ft. above sea level, the lowest on record since the construction of the Hoover Dam.

Meanwhile, Lake Powell has lost 4 percent of storage capacity since 1986, according to a March report from the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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