More Water Headed To Lake Mead

August 14, 2014

One of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system that is struggling to serve the booming Southwest will get more water this year, but that won't be enough to pull Lake Mead back from near-record lows.

Water managers, farmers and cities throughout the region have been closely watching the elevation at the reservoir behind Hoover Dam. It is at its lowest level since the dam was complete and the lake was first filled in the 1930s.

A drop to 1,075 would mean cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that it will release 10 percent more water from Lake Powell near the Arizona-Utah border into Lake Mead than it did the past year, thanks to near-normal runoff.

Federal officials said they'll send 8.23 million-acre feet to Lake Mead, up from 7.48 million-acre feet when Lake Powell was at its lowest level ever. An acre foot is about 325,850 gallons, or enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.

Despite the additional water, Lake Mead is projected to remain near record lows at 1,083 feet in January — three feet higher than it was Wednesday. That's because more water will be delivered to cities, farms, American Indian communities and Mexico than Lake Mead will get from Lake Powell.

Federal officials say they will review their projections in April after the winter snowfall, with the possibility of releasing up to 9 million acre feet into Lake Mead for the 2015 water year.

The August projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation help set the course for water deliveries for the next two years but didn't reveal anything unexpected.

Some water managers and users have been saving water for potential dry days or preparing for an expected water shortage in 2016. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis said officials still are running numbers that would show the percentage chance of cuts in 2016. Those figures are expected to be released later this month.

In the meantime, federal officials and water administrators in metro areas say they're committed to finding new ways to make every drop of river water count — from conservation, recycling, cloud seeding, desalination plants and pipelines to new reservoirs.

Scott Huntley of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said the agency isn't expecting any major difficulties, even if shortages are declared for the Colorado River water because of conservation and water reuse programs.

"We're at least in a solid position to weather this," he said.

The entire Colorado River system supplies water to California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and part of Mexico.