Lake Powell missing 40,000 acre feet of water after accidental release, officials say

Jun 13, 2024, 2:00 PM

The Glen Canyon Dam holds back the waters of Lake Powell in Page, Arizona, on July 18, 2022....

The Glen Canyon Dam holds back the waters of Lake Powell in Page, Arizona, on July 18, 2022. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

GLEN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA — Lake Powell got an accidental haircut last year, according to officials overseeing the nation’s second-largest reservoir.

The Bureau of Reclamation told The Colorado Sun, they accidentally released 40,000 acre feet of water. This happened while trying to balance moving a lot of water around the Colorado River Basin in 2023.

Utah’s Colorado River Commissioner, Gene Shawcroft told KSL NewsRadio the Bureau was working to balance millions of acre feet of water, between repaying water borrowed from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa reservoirs and the very wet winter that shortly followed.

The water from the reservoirs was used as an emergency boost for Lake Powell and Lake Mead at the height of the drought. Those releases ended in early 2023.

“The hydrology changed dramatically,” Shawcroft said. “This was a unique situation.”

Shawcroft said this type of situation isn’t normal. The drastic change in conditions in-turn made it harder for officials to get water where it was supposed to go.

Under the circumstances, Shawcroft said, “that’s very good operation,” speaking about the performance of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“40,000 acre feet is within a half of a percent of everything that got moved around,” Shawcroft said. “I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

What comes next?

A spokesperson for the Bureau told The Colorado Sun that the 40,000 acre feet of water will not be put back. That’s because it falls within the margin of error listed in the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines, which were signed by every state that uses the river’s water, including Utah.

However, Shawcroft said the Upper Basin, which Utah is a part of, will get credited for that accidental release in it’s normal downstream obligations to the Lower Basin states.

Shawcroft said a Utah household uses roughly 1 acre foot of water per year. If it was allocated as such, this could have supplied water to roughly 40,000 Utah homes for a year.

However, Lake Powell can hold more than 23 million acre feet of water total. It’s currently just under 39% full and still taking in water from what’s left of Spring runoff.

Forty million people in seven states rely on the Colorado River for drinking and irrigation water. That includes Utah as well as Mexico.

Utah has rights to just over 11% of what’s allocated from the Colorado River. That alone supplies the Beehive State with more than a quarter of its yearly water supply.


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Lake Powell missing 40,000 acre feet of water after accidental release, officials say