Dire Straits for Glen Canyon Dam; Lodore/Deso to See Higher Flows from Flaming Gorge Dam Releases

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Boaters on the Grand this year can expect lower water. And those on stretches above Lake Powell, especially on the Green River in canyons like Gates of Lodore, Desolation/Gray and Labyrinth/Stillwater, as well as Cataract Canyon on the Colorado, can expect higher and/or longer flows. And those sea kayaking on Lake Powell can expect longer and longer mud flats, while cliff jumpers on Utah’s Flaming Gorge might experience slightly higher hucks.

That’s the paddling takeaway, anyway from a recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation press conference held on May 3, announcing that for the first time ever, the agency is adjusting operations at the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell, reducing water deliveries to the Colorado River Lower Basin states by nearly a half-million acre-feet.

“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,” said Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo in the conference.

According to news outlet reports, the bureau added that given the extraordinary circumstances in the basin it’s invoking its authority to change annual operations at Glen Canyon Dam to protect hydropower generation, the facility’s key infrastructure, and the water supply for the city of Page, Arizona, and the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation. To protect Lake Powell, more water will flow into the lake from upstream reservoirs and less water will be released downstream:

  • Under a Drought Contingency Plan adopted in 2019, approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water will come from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, located approximately 455 river miles upstream of Lake Powell. As a result of these new releases, the bureau said the surface elevation at Flaming Gorge will drop by nine feet.
  • Another 480,000 acre-feet of water will be left in Lake Powell by reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 million acre-feet to 7 million acre-feet.

The two actions will augment water supplies at Lake Powell by nearly a million acre-feet over the next year and will result in an elevation increase of 16 feet.

Gates of Lodore/Deso Flows

According to Dale Hamilton of the Provo, Utah, Bureau of Reclamation division, beginning on May 5, 2022, the daily average release from Flaming Gorge Dam is scheduled to be increased from 850 cfs to 1,800 cfs. The average daily release of 1,800 cfs is scheduled to continue thereafter until a new notification is sent.

At present, Lake Powell’s water surface elevation is at 3,522 feet, its lowest level since originally being filled in the 1960s. The bureau said critical elevation at Lake Powell is 3,490 feet, the lowest point at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate hydropower.

The bureau added this elevation introduces new uncertainties for reservoir operations because it’s never operated under such conditions for an extended period.

“Today’s announcement to reduce the amount of water released from Lake Powell is a stark reminder of the dire conditions in the Colorado River Basin and the urgency to develop a plan to mitigate this ongoing crisis,” Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program director for The Nature Conservancy, told KSL/Deseret News after the announcement. “We face unprecedented challenges in the basin following decades of higher temperatures, low runoff conditions, and depleted reservoirs. We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can control our demands and how quickly we develop and implement solutions.”

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