Powell Water Level Mead Water Level Upper Basin Snow Pack

1 September 2021 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.

The summer of 2021 has Lake Powell and Lake Mead setting or hovering at all-time lows since first filled - 1960s for Powell, 1930s for Mead.  Rivers feeding Lake Powell are 59% of average and basin precipitation is 81% of average.  The forecast is for La Niña to continue into 2022 which will prolong the drought for at least another year.  La Niña sends the winter snowpack north of the Colorado Basin.  Forecasters are saying that without a positive climate change, the drought may continue for many more years.

This summer's monsoon and the remnants of tropical storm Nora have temporarily stabilized the lakes' elevations.

Lake Powell is 151 feet (46 m) below full pool at 31% of capacity, down 51 feet (15.5 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.  Hite Marina is 96 feet (29 meters) below minimum elevation, remains closed.  Hite Marina has been open once in the last 18 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 last year; now 151.6 feet (46.2 meters) below full pool at 35% of capacity.  Lake Mead has been hovering around new record lows daily since June 9.  It is 16 feet (5 m) below last year, and 57 feet (17.4 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.

“We are now in year 20 of an extended dry period that we should start accepting as the new normal,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District.  Those of us living in the basin are hesitant to accept this as normal.

The loss of water reserves in this 20-year drought is significant.  Lake Powell is down 5.8 trillion gallons and Lake Mead is down 5.1 trillion gallons, a total loss of 10.9 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 spring snowmelt is finished, the snowpack graph will not be updated until winter.

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.