11 Million extra acre feet?

Dorado

Escalante-Class Member
Pretty biased opinion IMHO, from very much of a State of Colorado viewpoint. I think using the the term for the upper basin water use as "entitlements" pretty much gives that away....nobody is "entitled" to the water. The compact requires the release of the water to the lower basin states, that is where it went! How would the GOV be viewed if they would have cut back on deliveries when LP was pretty full? The lower basin states would have thrown a fit! For sure there was a head in the sand mentality that bet more snowpack was coming in the future to make up the deficit. The real issue is overallocation by all parties.
 

DVexile

New Member
It would be wise to actually read the study referred to in the opinion piece rather than the questionable opinion piece itself. The study makes it clear that without those releases that Lake Mead would be too low today. Those releases would have had to have happened regardless. But what’s a good opinion piece without out cherry picking facts and throwing shade on fish and environmentalists to make yourself feel all smart and smug?

It is a complicated problem and the artificial division between the upper and lower basins has not helped. That‘s what the study is pointing out clearly. The opinion piece isn’t actually saying anything useful itself.
 

JFRCalifornia

Escalante-Class Member
This is pretty much the kind of report that has just enough truth in it to make people angry, but not enough truth to be useful.

The issue, at its heart, is not about government taking away water from Lake Powell, but the basic fact that there hasn't been enough snowpack to adequately fill both Powell and Mead, while balancing the legal water supply requirements of seven states and Mexico, plus the need to generate power.

It's a complicated story, not a simple one of "government is at fault", with "government" in this case really being the Bureau of Reclamation.

As for the numbers they use in the piece, they are close in places, not so close in others.

Setting it straight:

In a perfect world, there would be 8.23 maf (not 8.3 maf as reported) released through Glen Canyon Dam each year to satisfy downstream water supply requirements. Of course that rarely happens because annual inflows to the system are unpredictable, and adjustments must be made up or down. It is true that sometimes the releases are higher, either to help prop up a declining Lake Mead, or because more power can be generated that way, or to make up for previous years of lower flow in order to meet a rolling 10-year release requirement. In particularly big runoff years (like 2011), the release is much higher that 8.23 maf, which allows releases to be lower in subsequent drought years, such as we've seen. In water year 2022, the releases through the dam will only be 7.0 maf. Next year likely similar. We can thank big years like 2011 for that flexibility, and for the years like 2015-19 when the releases were closer to 9.0 maf each year.

They also report a cumulative "waste" of 11 maf from 2000-18 that should have been kept in Lake Powell. First off, the cumulative average annual release during that period was 8.7 maf during the period, which means there was cumulatively about 9.4 maf above the aggregate minimum of 8.23 maf per year during that time, not 11 maf. But that cumulative number is largely meaningless in the big picture. Consider that in the huge snow year of 2011, the lake hit 3661, and that in spite of releasing nearly 14 maf through the dam that year (a good thing too for Lake Mead and necessary for downstream users). That means the lake was mostly full as recently as 11 years ago, and so we should focus on what happened in those subsequent 11 years, not back as far as 2000. If 2000, why not 1990? Or 1980? Or 1963?

As for the Upper Basin using only "60% of their entitlement", you have to be careful about that word "entitlement". Those states collectively consumed about 3.90 maf on average from the Colorado River watershed each year since 2000, and that number has creeped up a bit in recent years, so the average from 2016-20 was about 4.15 maf. Let's call it 4 maf in the big picture. And that's closer to 53% of the theoretical use of 7.5 maf if there is sufficient water in the system to send enough water through the dam to the Lower Basin per the Law of the River (1922 Compact, et al). The fact that the levels on Lake Powell have declined in recent years is evidence that the Upper Basin states have been using more than can be sustained and still meet the requirements under the law.

But of course fair is fair, and that's why in this time of declining water availability, the states have to think practically, think collectively, act now, come together, reduce use in a way that all share the pain, hunker down and wait for for the snow to return. Obviously, some new protocols need to be established. And I think that's what's happening. Squabbles are wasted breaths at this point.

Articles like this that blame "government" don't help. Casting blame is easy, and not part of a real solution.
 
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davew

Well-Known Member
This is pretty much the kind of report that has just enough truth in it to make people angry, but not enough truth to be useful.

The issue, at its heart, is not about government taking away water from Lake Powell, but the basic fact that there hasn't been enough snowpack to adequately fill both Powell and Mead, while balancing the legal water supply requirements of seven states and Mexico, plus the need to generate power.

It's a complicated story, not a simple one of "government is at fault", with "government" in this case really being the Bureau of Reclamation.

As for the numbers they use in the piece, they are close in places, not so close in others.

Setting it straight:

In a perfect world, there would be 8.23 maf (not 8.3 maf as reported) released through Glen Canyon Dam each year to satisfy downstream water supply requirements. Of course that rarely happens because annual inflows to the system are unpredictable, and adjustments must be made up or down. It is true that sometimes the releases are higher, either to help prop up a declining Lake Mead, or because more power can be generated that way, or to make up for previous years of lower flow in order to meet a rolling 10-year release requirement. In particularly big runoff years (like 2011), the release is much higher that 8.23 maf, which allows releases to be lower in subsequent drought years, such as we've seen. In water year 2022, the releases through the dam will only be 7.0 maf. Next year likely similar. We can thank big years like 2011 for that flexibility, and for the years like 2015-19 when the releases were closer to 9.0 maf each year.

They also report a cumulative "waste" of 11 maf from 2000-18 that should have been kept in Lake Powell. First off, the cumulative average annual release during that period was 8.7 maf during the period, which means there was cumulatively about 9.4 maf above the aggregate minimum of 8.23 maf per year during that time, not 11 maf. But that cumulative number is largely meaningless in the big picture. Consider that in the huge snow year of 2011, the lake hit 3661, and that in spite of releasing nearly 14 maf through the dam that year (a good thing too for Lake Mead and necessary for downstream users). That means the lake was mostly full as recently as 11 years ago, and so we should focus on what happened in those subsequent 11 years, not back as far as 2000. If 2000, why not 1990? Or 1980? Or 1963?

As for the Upper Basin using only "60% of their entitlement", you have to be careful about that word "entitlement". Those states collectively consumed about 3.90 maf on average from the Colorado River watershed each year since 2000, and that number has creeped up a bit in recent years, so the average from 2016-20 was about 4.15 maf. Let's call it 4 maf in the big picture. And that's closer to 53% of the theoretical use of 7.5 maf if there is sufficient water in the system to send enough water through the dam to the Lower Basin per the Law of the River (1922 Compact, et al). The fact that the levels on Lake Powell have declined in recent years is evidence that the Upper Basin states have been using more than can be sustained and still meet the requirements under the law.

But of course fair is fair, and that's why in this time of declining water availability, the states have to think practically, think collectively, act now, come together, reduce use in a way that all share the pain, hunker down and wait for for the snow to return. Obviously, some new protocols need to be established. And I think that's what's happening. Squabbles are wasted breaths at this point.

Articles like this that blame "government" don't help. Casting blame is easy, and not part of a real solution.
Thanks -- I do not remember seeing the amount of water sent down over the 8.23 -- I knew there was some, but total was unknown. I knew you would have the numbers--- Thanks!
 

JFRCalifornia

Escalante-Class Member
Thanks -- I do not remember seeing the amount of water sent down over the 8.23 -- I knew there was some, but total was unknown. I knew you would have the numbers--- Thanks!
You're welcome! The releases through the dam have varied greatly historically, and when the lake was flush in the 1980s and late 1990s, some of the releases were gigantic--but that was necessary because Powell was already pretty much full. For example, from 1983-86, releases through the dam averaged 18.7 maf each year. And yet Powell remained full! In the late 1990s, the releases averaged 12.5 maf from 1996-99. And yet the lake filled.

So we can talk about the BOR tweaking this or that in their protocols, but really everything depends on snowfall. And when the water isn't there...

Just in case anyone wants to do their own analysis on this, here's the release numbers through the dam since 2000 as reported by BOR (water years, not calendar years):

2000 - 8.47 maf
2001 - 8.02
2002 - 7.80
2003 - 8.19
2004 - 8.45

Let's stop here for a second. Keep in mind those releases were during a megadrought period. They look pretty average, and yet during that time Powell dropped 150 feet. So BOR wasn't doing anything outside the required protocol, they just had never encountered the kind of super drought we all experienced during that time.

2005 - 8.26
2006 - 8.41
2007 - 8.23
2008 - 9.10
2009 - 8.30
2010 - 8.18
2011 - 13.65

This was a period of generally average or above average snowpack, with 2005, 2008, and 2011 standing out as big years--especially 2011. And the releases through the dam were slightly above average, except in 2011, which was way above average, and was seen as a real opportunity to bank some much-needed water downstream. In retrospect, that was a key move, because it allowed the system to stave off Mead's steady decline since 2001, and raised that lake briefly back to 1134, a level it has not seen since.

2012 - 8.19
2013 - 7.97
2014 - 7.92
2015 - 8.81
2016 - 9.21
2017 - 8.74
2018 - 9.01
2019 - 8.96
2020 - 8.19
2021 - 7.78

This last period saw some real ups and downs in terms of snowpack and drought. Good years in 2014, 2017 and 2019; bad years in 2012, 2013, and 2018. And then the historically bad year of 2021. And yet BOR's releases were generally above average, except at the very end. Seems curious, until you realize it was probably a good thing, because it meant that deliveries slightly exceeded the 10-year requirement, which allowed for the kind of cutbacks in delivery we've seen in 2021 and 2022--now down to 7.0 maf. It's very much a balancing act between Powell and Mead, and water delivery requirements.

It's also notable that this happened in an era when the Lower Basin states were actually decreasing their water use, and yet Mead could only remain in a steady state--mostly between 1075-1090, in spite of generally above average releases through Glen Canyon Dam during this period. Why? Hotter temperatures? Higher evaporation? Less inflow from the rivers below the dam (Little Colorado and Virgin)? Inaccurate reporting? Questions to explore. And in spite of it all, Powell generally remained above 3600 in this period. Until recent times.

We can wring our hands, throw stones, scream and blame, but it's true--all problems are solved whenever the snowpack returns. But until then, it will require a creative, cooperative approach to maintain that delicate balance among all parties, with an agreement that focuses on proportional water use cutbacks among the states, consistent messaging, accurate information, a little empathy, and very nimble water managers at BOR.
 
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Squirrel

Escalante-Class Member
John, where does the "Big Flush", in multiple years, thru the Grand Canyon fall in the big picture of the yearly outflows for Powell? Does that get included in the required down river requirements? Sq
 

JFRCalifornia

Escalante-Class Member
John, where does the "Big Flush", in multiple years, thru the Grand Canyon fall in the big picture of the yearly outflows for Powell? Does that get included in the required down river requirements? Sq
Good question. The "Big Flush", which happens sporadically since 1996, derives from the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, and is intended to build beaches and assist with habitat creation through the Grand Canyon. Also referred to as the "High Flow Experiment", it's usually but not always in the fall (usually November), but sometimes in the spring. Releases have occurred in 1996, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018. In general, they last about a week (sometimes a little less), and boost the flow from the typical background flow of 8,000 cfs to around 40,000 cfs during that period. Typically, Lake Powell drops from about 2.5-3.5 feet during those periods, not insignificant. In all, releases beyond background levels amount to anywhere from 250,000 to 450,000 acre feet, again, not an insignificant amount.

But to your question, these are calculated as part of the annual release requirements in a given year, and not "over and above" as some sort of bonus. In effect, these periods just concentrate planned releases into a shorter timeframe. During those years, annual releases through the dam ranged from 7.9 maf (in 2014) to 11.0 maf (in 1996), and were not significantly different than the years before or after the releases.
 
JFR, in the data set provided above shouldn't you be using the flow as measured at "Lee Ferry" that includes the flow of the Paria River instead of the releases from the dam? Those are the official Upper Basin deliveries based on water year, instead of calendar year.

Thanks. Always appreciate your analyses.
 

JFRCalifornia

Escalante-Class Member
JFR, in the data set provided above shouldn't you be using the flow as measured at "Lee Ferry" that includes the flow of the Paria River instead of the releases from the dam? Those are the official Upper Basin deliveries based on water year, instead of calendar year.

Thanks. Always appreciate your analyses.
It's a good thought. In the 24-month studies they release every month, BOR tracks releases from the dam, but in a separate column also the water added from the tributaries of the Colorado from Glen Canyon to Hoover Dam--notably the Little Colorado and Virgin rivers, but also the Paria, among others. In water year 2021, that came to about 0.56 maf. But yes, inflow to Lake Mead available for possible release through Hoover Dam needs to account for all of that, less the evaporation along the way and in Lake Mead (which BOR also tracks, and in 2021 was about 0.53 maf).
 
Here are the actual water year flows measured at "Lee Ferry" as reported in the annual Upper Colorado River Commission Reports.

As you can see the Upper Basin water deliveries have been pretty generous to help support Lake Mead. The numbers are far above what used to be the standard annual delivery of 8.23 maf before the Interim Guidelines were issued in 2007. These deliveries helped to delay the shortage call for the Lower Basin at the expense of Lake Powell water levels which today are nearly 100 feet lower than what they would be otherwise.

A lot of extra water was shared downstream over the past 10 years which helped justify the reduced volume of 7.0 maf scheduled for this water year.

2000 - 9.53 maf
2001 - 8.36 maf
2002 - 8.35 maf
2003 - 8.37 maf
2004 - 8.35 maf
2005 - 8.40 maf
2006 - 8.51 maf
2007 - 8.42 maf
2008 - 9.18 maf
2009 - 8.41 maf
2010 - 8.44 maf
2011 - 13.23 maf
2012 - 9.53 maf
2013 - 8.29 maf
2014 - 7.59 maf
2015 - 9.16 maf
2016 - 9.14 maf
2017 - 9.18 maf
2018 - 9.17 maf
2019 - 9.26 maf
2020 - 8.23 maf
2021 - 8.23 maf
2022 - 7.00 maf (projected)
 

AzTacoma

Active Member
It does seem like the government was pushing a little more water through in the teens to help Mead, which of course increased the strain on Powell. I see their intent, although it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense long term. But then again, they were probably hoping for "normal" run-off into Powell to keep it from getting too low... which of course didn't happen.

Ultimately it doesn't seem to really matter: there just hasn't been enough water to meet requirements and keep the lakes from dropping, no matter how you try and divy things up. I believe we can supplement the supply to some degree (which has been stated in other topics) but there's no doubt that significant cuts are coming on the demand side, albeit too late in my estimation.
 

Gunny

Active Member
It does seem like the government was pushing a little more water through in the teens to help Mead, which of course increased the strain on Powell. I see their intent, although it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense long term. But then again, they were probably hoping for "normal" run-off into Powell to keep it from getting too low... which of course didn't happen.

Ultimately it doesn't seem to really matter: there just hasn't been enough water to meet requirements and keep the lakes from dropping, no matter how you try and divy things up. I believe we can supplement the supply to some degree (which has been stated in other topics) but there's no doubt that significant cuts are coming on the demand side, albeit too late in my estimation.
Agree. Unfortunately.
 

Lake Bum

Well-Known Member
The Chub flush used to REALLLLLLLYYYYY upset me, until I learned that every drop of that water is included in the annual release requirements. It's a touchy subject, which is highly debatable, but at least the water isn't above and beyond required releases!
 
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