Powell Water Level Mead Water Level Upper Basin Snow Pack

16 April 2022 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 Powell and Lake Mead continue to set all-time lows since the lakes first filled.  This 22-year drought is the worst in 1,200 years [NPR 2/17/2022].  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].  The forecast is for La Niña to continue through 2022 which will prolong the drought for another year.  La Niña sends precipitation and the winter snowpack north of the Colorado Basin and the southwestern deserts.  La Niña is sending precipitation through the northwest, and climate change is sending Rocky Mountain storms to the eastern US, creating all kinds of havoc.  Basin snowpack is 87% of average and precipitation is 97% of average, thanks to recent storms; rivers feeding Lake Powell contine to be sluggish at 38% of average.  The eastern Utah mountains snowpack, which feeds Lake Powell, is also below average, matching the rest of the basin. 

Lake Powell is 177.3 feet (54 m) below full pool at 24% of capacity, setting all-time low elevations, down 42 feet (12.7 m) from this date last year.  All Lake Powell marina main boat launch ramps are closed.  Some marinas have emergency ramps or business (fee) ramps open - check NPS for more information.  We have a June 2021 photo of the Antelope Point ramp - Lake Mead has dropped an additional 13.4 feet (4.1 m) since this photo was taken.  Wahweep Marina, the main marina for Lake Powell is closed, 28 feet (8.6 m) below usable elevation (emergency ramps are open).  Hite Marina is 122 feet (37.3 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).

Lake Mead was at a 7-year high elevation all of 2020; now 177.3 feet (54 meters) below full pool at 24% of capacity.  Lake Mead has been setting new record lows daily.  It is 41.7 feet (12.7 m) below last year, and 67 feet (20.4 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.

The loss of water reserves in this 22-year drought is significant.  The hydroelectric plants at these lakes that supplies electricity to millions of homes in the southwest are in danger of shutting down if the levels continue to drop.  Lake Powell is down 6.06 trillion gallons and Lake Mead is down 5.86 trillion gallons, a total loss of 11.9 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.