Powell Water Level Mead Water Level Upper Basin Snow Pack

30 January 2023 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.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell continue to hover around record lows for this date since they first filled, in the 1930s for Lake Mead, in the 1960s for Lake Powell; but that may change some if these wild storms continue.  Climate change is creating all kinds of havoc; early-winter storms this year have deposited a lot of snow:  precipitation is 122% and the snowpack is 134.8% of average; rivers feeding Lake Powell trail at 85%.  And the eastern Utah mountains snowpack feeding Lake Powell is above average.  But it is going to take several more years like this if this 23-year drought, the worst in 1,200 years [PBS News 7/15/2022], and other news sources, is going to end.  The La NiƱa climate pattern continues for the third consecutive winter, bringing greater global drought risk [World Meteorological Organization].  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.  Note the median snowpack, that runs it back to 1991 - we need a lot of those.  We are a third of way into the new water year.

Lake Powell is 176.4 feet (53.8 m) below full pool at 22.5% of capacity, down 8.3 feet (6.9 m) from this date last year.  All Lake Powell marina main boat launch ramps are closed, some have emergency ramps or business (fee) ramps open.  Wahweep Marina, the main marina for Lake Powell is closed, 27.4 feet (8 m) below usable elevation (emergency ramps are open).  This NPS side-by-side-photo, from Changing Lake Levels, of the Antelope Point ramp compares the ramp on March, 2021, and August, 2022.  Changing Lake Levels at NPS has updated information on the marinas.  Hite Marina is 121.4 feet (37 meters) below minimum elevation, remains closed.  Hite Marina has been open once in the last 19 or 20 years (2012).  I was there at 2019's high elevation (31 July) - not a boat in sight (photo).  The pandemic has kept me away since then.

Lake Mead was at a 7-year high elevation all of 2020; now 173 feet (52.7 meters) below full pool at 28.8% of capacity, 28.8 feet (8.8 m) below last year, 78.3 feet (23.8 m) 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.