Powell Water Level Mead Water Level Upper Basin Snow Pack

15 January 2024 Colorado Basin Drought Update

The water year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30. That can cause some confusion when comparing data because some declare the water year as the year it begins, others as the year it ends.

With last year's record storms and snowpack, and the summer monsoon, in the southwest, Lake Powell and Lake Mead recovered somewhat from the record low elevations set in the last two years.  Todays statistics:  Precipitation is 84%, rivers feeding Lake Powell are 8%, and snowpack is 81%, of average.  Climate change is creating all kinds of havoc world-wide; last year's record-breaking precipitation in the Colorado Basin may be a one-year anomoly  And it is going to take several more years of above average snowpack if this 24-year drought is going to end, the worst in 1,200 years [PBS News and other news sources].  From the Weather Channel: La Niña Has Ended After Three Years; El Niño May Be Ahead. [image links added by SCC].  el Niño is here - it tends to bring more winter/spring snow and rain to the Colorado River Basin.  The Ancestral Puebloans left the four corners area around 1,200 years ago, presumably because of a 50-year drought [Edwin Barnhart, PhD, Maya Exploration Center].  Select a graph tile above for a large version of the graph.  We are 3+ months into the water year.

Lake Powell is 133 feet (40.5 m) below full pool at 34% of capacity, 42.6 feet (13 m) above this date last year, significantly above the elevations of 2022 and 2023.  With last year's runoff, many Lake Powell marinas are open.  Changing Lake Levels at NPS has updated information on the marinas and launch ramps.  Hite Marina, -83 ft - 25 m, has been open once in the last 19 or 20 years (2012).  A July 31, 2019 photo at Hite Marina shows not a boat in sight.  This NPS side-by-side-photo, from Changing Lake Levels, of the Antelope Point ramp compares the ramp on March, 2021, and August, 2022.  The store/gas station at Hite has since closed.  Lake Powell elevation gif.

Lake Mead was at a 7-year high elevation all of 2020, set record lows in 2022-23. It is making a recovery from last year's snowpack and monsoon, now 149.4 feet (45.5 meters) below full pool at 35.6% of capacity, 25 feet (7.6 m) above last year, still significantly below drought level.  NPS does not have a similar site for Lake Mead marinas; previous information says that Boulder Harbor (replacing closed Lake Mead Marina), Kingman Wash, South Cove, and Temple Bar marinas/boat launches are open.  Government Wash Launch, Las Vegas Bay Marina, Pearce Ferry Launch, and Overton Beach Marina are closed.  This is old info, others may now be closed.

The loss of water reserves in this 22-year drought is significant.  Lake Powell is down 6.3 trillion gallons and Lake Mead is down 6.43 trillion gallons, a total loss of 12.743 trillion gallons of water in the two reservoirs.

Lake Powell collects the snowmelt of the Upper Colorado Basin with significant elevation changes to Lake Powell, allowing Lake Mead to maintain a more consistent elevation with measured releases from Lake Powell.  The Lake Powell and Lake Mead graphs illustrate the lake elevations for the current water year plus the preceding 5 years.  The Upper Colorado Basin snowpack graph shows the current and past 6 years with an average.

The US Bureau of Reclamation - the agency charged with managing water in the West Select a tile at the top of the page to view the graphs of the lakes from Water Data, constructed with data provided by the USBR.  The Lake Powell graph has a gradation of ten feet while the Lake Mead graph has a gradation of five feet, providing exagerated level changes of Lake Mead when compared to Lake Powell in the graphs.  This graph shows Lake Mead on the same scale as Lake Powell.  Water Data prefers to emphasize elevation swings, while I prefer to show comparable elevation levels.  Note that elevations are above sea level, not water depth.