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USBR - Updated Lake Level Forecast January 2021

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
The USBR issued its latest update on the state of the lake and where it's going, as of January 15. The short story is no surprise, and here it is:

In terms of inflow, this year is shaping up to be dismal, which is obvious to anybody paying attention outside their window. The most probable scenario puts inflow for Water Year 20-21 (meaning Oct 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021) at 5.72 maf (about half of the annual average since 1981), which is low, but not the worst ever--that would have been in 2001-02. In recent years, 2012, 2013 and 2018 were slightly worse, but not by much. Looking back farther, 1977, 1981 and 1990 were also worse, but again not by much. And that's it.

Pessimistically, USBR also issued a "worst case" inflow of 3.59 maf. If that happened, it still wouldn't be quite as bad as either 2001-02 or 1976-77, but that's not exactly saying much...

As far as lake levels go, it's not going to be a pretty picture. Looks like they are still forecasting a low point of about 3565 right at the beginning of April, but then just a modest recovery to about 3575 in June/July. From there, it's a slow slide back... roughly just over 3565 at the end of WY 20-21 (Sept 30).

The worst case scenario envisions no recovery at all in the spring, and a continued slide down to 3543 on Sept 30...

...on the other hand, their optimistic "best case" model only has the springtime recovery going up to 3590, then sliding back to 3581 by Sept 30.

Practically speaking, this means we're not going to come close to cracking even 3600 anytime in 2021, and most likely will see the Castle Rock Cut closed all year. But the lake will still remain huge and navigable, although perhaps present some launching challenges depending on location...

On the bright side, the news will probably be full of apocalyptic stories about the lake drying up, accompanied by pictures of the lake from 2004-05 that probably show a dead fish on the shore, or some graphic showing the Hite area, which hopefully will be read by lots of jet skiers who then won't bother to come this year.

Oh well, too bad for them. :)
 
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Dungee

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the update JFR, and your apocalyptic media prediction is funny and so true.

I know in the grand big picture we of course want more water, but I am excited to see the lake really low, or at least much lower than recently. Always presents new challenges, new structure to fish, new scenery. I kind of want to see that “Fort Moqui” (spelling?).

That being said, here’s to more snow!
 

jayfromtexas

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the update JFR, and your apocalyptic media prediction is funny and so true.

I know in the grand big picture we of course want more water, but I am excited to see the lake really low, or at least much lower than recently. Always presents new challenges, new structure to fish, new scenery. I kind of want to see that “Fort Moqui” (spelling?).

That being said, here’s to more snow!
Unfortunately, because of the siltation in the White Canyon area I don't believe Fort Moki will be visible anymore. Anyone able to go in there and check it out? From old photos it looks like the ruins aren't that far above the river near the mouth of the canyon. Here is an old photo I found (I believe it may have been the Doc Marston collection at the Huntington Library). From the vantage of this photo, sadly I believe it probably is sadly buried in mud.


Fort Moki.jpg
 

jayfromtexas

Well-Known Member
That's a pretty good approximation of what the falls at Cathedral in the Desert will look like this spring/summer. In April 2014, the lake was at about 3575.
JFR, Thanks!
It was thrilling to get in to see it that year. Of course I missed it when the water got down to 3555 in 2005.
 

Dorado

Well-Known Member
Looks like most of that moisture is going south, but they desperately need it! I just hope the change in the pattern ushers in a more active pattern that will allow the storms to start moving across the central and southern Rockies instead of going north where they already have a bunch of snow!!!
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
The USBR issued its latest update on the state of the lake and where it's going, as of January 15. The short story is no surprise, and here it is:

In terms of inflow, this year is shaping up to be dismal, which is obvious to anybody paying attention outside their window. The most probable scenario puts inflow for Water Year 20-21 (meaning Oct 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021) at 5.72 maf (about half of the annual average since 1981), which is low, but not the worst ever--that would have been in 2001-02. In recent years, 2012, 2013 and 2018 were slightly worse, but not by much. Looking back farther, 1977, 1981 and 1990 were also worse, but again not by much. And that's it.

Pessimistically, USBR also issued a "worst case" inflow of 3.59 maf. If that happened, it still wouldn't be quite as bad as either 2001-02 or 1976-77, but that's not exactly saying much...

As far as lake levels go, it's not going to be a pretty picture. Looks like they are still forecasting a low point of about 3565 right at the beginning of April, but then just a modest recovery to about 3575 in June/July. From there, it's a slow slide back... roughly just over 3565 at the end of WY 20-21 (Sept 30).

The worst case scenario envisions no recovery at all in the spring, and a continued slide down to 3543 on Sept 30...

...on the other hand, their optimistic "best case" model only has the springtime recovery going up to 3590, then sliding back to 3581 by Sept 30.

Practically speaking, this means we're not going to come close to cracking even 3600 anytime in 2021, and most likely will see the Castle Rock Cut closed all year. But the lake will still remain huge and navigable, although perhaps present some launching challenges depending on location...

On the bright side, the news will probably be full of apocalyptic stories about the lake drying up, accompanied by pictures of the lake from 2004-05 that probably show a dead fish on the shore, or some graphic showing the Hite area, which hopefully will be read by lots of jet skiers who then won't bother to come this year.

Oh well, too bad for them. :)
Okay, here's the USBR February update, hot off the press as of Feb 12.


Not too much to add to the January forecast, but if anything they've slightly downgraded their inflow projections from a month ago. Now instead of hoping to come up to 3575 by summer, they are now looking at a "most probable scenario" closer to 3570 after bottoming out at 3565 in early April. Their "best" and "worst" case scenarios remain basically unchanged from January.

Here's a link to their surface elevation chart:


Of course, new storms could change all that, and I hope they do, but that's where USBR is at right now. As they put it in their report, "current conditions resemble 2002, 2012, 2013 and the beginning of 2018, four out of the five driest years on record." I'd agree with that assessment, although I'd say 2002 (and 1977) was an order of magnitude worse than either this year or 2012, 2013 or 2018. But that's damning by faint praise... USBR projects a most probable inflow for 2020-21 (through Sept 30) to be 5.15 maf, or about 48% of the average recorded from the period 1981-2010. (It's also notable that since 2010, only 3 years have ended up above that 10.83 maf "average".... 2011, 2017 and 2019).

Here's the chart:


So it remains a glum forecast, and all we can do is hope for a solid spring in terms of storms and snow. But I imagine this year is shaping up like the back end of the similar one-two punch of 2012 and 2013. These bad stretches tend to come in clumps... 1988-92, 2000-04, 2012-13, and now 2020-21 (or 2018-21 if you want to think of 2019 as an anomaly)..... but that doesn't mean there can't be recovery afterwards...as there always has been: 1993-99, 2005-11, and to a lesser extent, 2014-17...

Let's see what happens from now through April...
 
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Trix

Well-Known Member
Thanks so much for doing the research and comparative analysis, John. I really don't specifically remember the challenges of the extremely low water years. I do know I had one of my three Sea Ray's in dry storage in Page since 1983 and boated 5 to 7 long weekends every year til about 2012 and enjoyed every trip, except one. So, plenty of fun at all water levels.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Thanks so much for doing the research and comparative analysis, John. I really don't specifically remember the challenges of the extremely low water years. I do know I had one of my three Sea Ray's in dry storage in Page since 1983 and boated 5 to 7 long weekends every year til about 2012 and enjoyed every trip, except one. So, plenty of fun at all water levels.
I agree that in a general sense, low water levels are no impediment to having fun at the lake. In fact, in a lot ways, I like the low levels, because I think it makes some of the side canyons a lot more interesting to see on foot. I also think for every whale that emerges, another hazard becomes manageable. For every beach that goes high and dry, another one emerges. And so it goes...

But what I like most about low water levels is that they tend to scare off visitors. The NPS data pretty much confirms the correlation, with a little lag time after the peaks, and with a big asterisk in recent years because of publicity via things like Facebook and Instagram. Here's the arc of recent attendance history relative to lake levels:

1. From 1973-83, annual visitation hovered just below 2 million +/-, but after the lake hit that stretch after filling in 1980 (and especially after the huge peak in 1983), visitation climbed steadily, peaking at 3.5 million in 1988, and it stayed there until 1992.

2. By the early 90s the lake had been steadily dropping for a few years, sliding back from 1988-92. And once that downward trend became news by 1992, attendance began to fall, bottoming out in 1998 at 2.4 million.

3. In the late 90s, the lake was on a steady rise again, especially from 1995-99, and so attendance started rising again after that trend was clear. In 1999-2000 attendance was up to about 2.5-2.6 million.

4. Then came the big lake level drop of 2000-04. And so attendance dropped below 2 million in 2003 and stayed there until 2009. But with the lake again on the rise (and peaking in 2011), attendance shot up again, and after a slight lull in 2012-13, was up to 3 million in 2016.

5. Now, in very recent years (say since 2010), the other big influence on visitation I think is the online craziness through various promotions, plus Facebook and Instagram, and all kinds of things that draw visitors like gnats to the lantern. And so there was a visitation all-time high of 4.5 million in 2017. But since then, attendance is down a bit, and probably because of the unstable lake levels. It was 4.3 million in 2019. But I think the base visitation will continue to rise because of over-publicity through online platforms, so I'd expect a new peak explosion of visitors the year after an upward trend in the lake level is recognized ... just a hunch...

 
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Bikes

Active Member

flowerbug

Well-Known Member
it looks like the snow pack has reached 10" of SWE for the season, so that's an improvement from the trend from a few weeks ago. will we reach average or above this season? i sure hope so, but the mystery continues. :)
 

Dorado

Well-Known Member
Anything can happen, and I too am glad to see the improvement in the snowpack. But we are still only 87% of average. Last year at this time we were well over 100%, and even over 100% at the peak of the snowpack in April....and we know how that worked out for water levels. I still find it perplexing how little water made it to LP last year, when it was a pretty good snow year...Fingers crossed for a wet spring!

 

nzaugg

Well-Known Member
Anything can happen, and I too am glad to see the improvement in the snowpack. But we are still only 87% of average. Last year at this time we were well over 100%, and even over 100% at the peak of the snowpack in April....and we know how that worked out for water levels. I still find it perplexing how little water made it to LP last year, when it was a pretty good snow year...Fingers crossed for a wet spring!

The problem with last year was the extraordinarily dry weather after March. It seems the rain was staying away due to Covid lockdowns as well. Without the wet spring, all that snow melt wound up getting absorbed by the dry soil and there was little excess precipitation to hit the reservoirs. Hopefully this current wet pattern will continue into the start of June.
 

flowerbug

Well-Known Member
the recent wet snow gets us back to where we were about a month ago in terms of percentage of average.

keep 'em coming! :)
 
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