May 30, 2023 – In compliance with the Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), the Bureau of Reclamation has started the 2023 Drought Response Operations Plan. In the Bureau’s press release published on May 26, the Bureau says that the main focus of the plan is to help upstream reservoirs reclaim surplus water that was previously released downstream to Lake Powell.
Upcoming Hydrological Conditions for Lake Powell Look Good.
Forecasts for Lake Powell during the DROA year (May 1, 2023 – April 30, 2024) indicate that it won’t require water supplementation from upstream reservoirs. This is primarily due to the high snowpack recorded this winter and the anticipated high runoff in the spring. The projected inflow of water into Lake Powell by the end of this water year (September 30, 2023) is estimated at over 14 million acre-feet – a quantity exceeding the combined total of the past three years.
Preparing for Future Dry Conditions.
Deputy Regional Director, Katrina Grantz, said, “We are leveraging this opportunity to get ready for possible future drought conditions by conserving and holding back more water in our upstream reservoirs.” However, she also stressed the importance of staying alert to the fluid nature of these conditions, and the team’s commitment to keeping a close eye on the hydrological changes. Any necessary adjustments to projections and operations will be made as and when required.
About Colorado River Storage Project.
Created by the Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell is the largest reservoir sanctioned by the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP). The CRSP also includes three other initial storage units:
- The Flaming Gorge Unit on the Green River spanning Utah and Wyoming.
- The Wayne N. Aspinall Unit (which includes Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Reservoirs) on the Gunnison River in Colorado
- The Navajo Unit on the San Juan River in New Mexico.
These units collectively contribute to the authorized purposes of the CRSP, including the holistic development of water resources in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Previous Drought Response Actions.
In response to the drought conditions in 2021 and 2022, additional water was directed from the upstream CRSP reservoirs to Lake Powell, totaling 624,000 acre-feet above the normally scheduled releases. Specifically, the Flaming Gorge provided 588,000 acre-feet and the Blue Mesa contributed 36,000 acre-feet. These reservoirs are projected to recuperate the extra water amounts by April 2024. Prior drought response actions involved reorganizing and reducing the annual release volumes from the Glen Canyon Dam.
The 2023 Drought Response Plan and DROA.
The 2023 Drought Response Plan was formulated by the Reclamation and the Upper Division States, in partnership with the Upper Colorado River Commission, aligning with the DROA’s scopes and objectives.
The DROA, part of the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, is designed to prevent Lake Powell from descending below crucial levels. In the DROA, the “target elevation” of Lake Powell is defined as 3,525 feet and includes a 35-foot buffer above the minimum power pool (elevation 3,490 feet). This buffer is in place to allow for response actions before Lake Powell’s water level drops below 3,490 feet.
For more details about DROA and the 2023 Drought Response Plan, you can visit the project website at https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/droa.html.
Image: Scenic view of Flaming Gorge Dam in Dutch John, Utah, via the Bureau of Reclamation.