Last Updated: November 15, 2022
The reduction of releases from Lake Powell from 7.48 maf to 7.00 maf in water year 2022 will result in a reduced release volume of 0.480 maf that normally would have been released from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead as part of the 7.48 maf annual release volume, consistent with operations under the 2007 Interim Guidelines. The reduction of releases from Glen Canyon Dam in water year 2022 (resulting in increased storage in Lake Powell) will not affect future operating determinations and will be accounted for “as if” this volume of water had been delivered to Lake Mead. The August 2022 24-Month Study modeled 2023 and 2024 operations at Lakes Powell and Mead as if the 0.480 maf had been delivered to Lake Mead for operating tier/condition purposes both for the U.S. Lower Basin and for Mexico. The elevations listed in the August 2022 24-Month Study report reflected the projected physical elevations at each reservoir after implementing operations as described for water year 2023 tier determination purposes.
Using the approach described in the immediately preceding paragraph, the August 2022 24-Month Study projected the January 1, 2023, Lake Powell elevation to be less than 3,525 feet. Consistent with Section 6.D.1 of the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell’s operations in water year 2023 are governed by the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier (LEBT) with an initial projected water year release volume of 7.00 maf. Because the 2022 operations were designed to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell, Reclamation will implement Lower Elevation Balancing Tier operations in a way that continues to protect these critical elevations, or preserves the benefits of the 2022 operations to protect Lake Powell, in water year 2023. Specifically, Reclamation modeled operations in WY 2023 as follows in the August and September 24-Month Studies:
- The Glen Canyon Dam annual release has initially been set to 7.00 maf, and in April 2023 Reclamation will evaluate hydrologic conditions to determine if balancing releases may be appropriate under the conditions established in the 2007 Interim Guidelines;
- Balancing releases will be limited (with a minimum of 7.00 maf) to protect Lake Powell from declining below elevation 3,525 feet at the end of December 2023;
- Balancing releases will take into account operational neutrality of the 0.480 maf that was retained in Lake Powell under the May 2022 action (May 3rd Letter). Any Lake Powell balancing release volume will be calculated as if the 0.480 maf had been delivered to Lake Mead in WY 2022; and
- The modeling approach for WY 2023 will apply to 2024.
In accordance with the May 3rd Letter, consistent with the provisions of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, and to preserve the benefits to Glen Canyon Dam facilities from 2022 Operations into 2023 and 2024, Reclamation will consult with the Basin States on monthly and annual operations. Reclamation will also ensure all appropriate consultation with Basin Tribes, the Republic of Mexico, other federal agencies, water users and non-governmental organizations with respect to implementation of these monthly and annual operations.
Reclamation will continue to carefully monitor hydrologic and operational conditions and assess the need for additional responsive actions and/or changes to operations. Reclamation will continue to consult with the Basin States, Basin Tribes, the Republic of Mexico and other partners on Colorado River operations to consider and determine whether additional measures should be taken to further enhance the preservation of these benefits, as well as recovery protocols, including those of future protective measures for both Lakes Powell and Mead. For additional information, the news release can be found here: https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/news-release/4294The Bureau of Reclamation announced on May 3, 2022, two separate urgent drought response actions that will help prop up Lake Powell by nearly 1 million acre-feet (maf) of water over the next 12 months (May 2022 through April 2023). To protect Lake Powell, more water will flow into the lake from upstream reservoirs and less water will be released downstream:
- Under a Drought Contingency Plan adopted in 2019, approximately 500 thousand acre-feet (kaf) of water will come from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, located approximately 455 river miles upstream of Lake Powell.
- Another 480 kaf will be left in Lake Powell by reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 maf to 7.0 maf, as outlined in the 2007 Interim Guidelines that control operations of Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam.
The plan can be found at the following website: https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/droa.html.
For additional information, see the following news release: https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/#/news-release/4196.
The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell during October was 437 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (97 percent of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in October was 480 kaf. The end of October elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3,529.92 feet (170 feet from full pool) and 5.83 million acre-feet (maf) (25 percent of live capacity), respectively.
To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.
To view the most current monthly release projections, click on: Lake Powell Release Projections.
To view the 2022 progession of snowpack above Lake Powell, click on Lake Powell Snow Chart.
To view the current inflow forecast relative to past inflows, click on Lake Powell Inflow Forecast.
Hourly releases during November 2022 will fluctuate from a low of approximately 6,300 cfs during the early morning hours to a high of 10,487 cfs during the afternoon and evening hours. The December 2022 releases are currently scheduled to fluctuate between a low of 6,029 cfs to a high of 10,979 cfs.
In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 megawatts (MW) of system regulation. These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,300 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate. Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.
Releases from Glen Canyon Dam can also fluctuate beyond scheduled releases when called upon to respond to unscheduled power outages or power system emergencies. Depending on the severity of the system emergency, the response from Glen Canyon Dam can be significant, within the full range of the operating capacity of the power plant for as long as is necessary to maintain balance in the transmission system. Glen Canyon Dam currently maintains 30 mw (approximately 800 cfs) of generation capacity in reserve in order to respond to a system emergency even when generation rates are already high. System emergencies occur fairly infrequently and typically require small responses from Glen Canyon Dam. However, these responses can have a noticeable impact on the river downstream of Glen Canyon Dam.
Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections
The forecast for water year 2023 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on November 2, 2022, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume in water year 2023 will be 8.0 maf (83 percent of average).
In addition to the November 2022 24-Month Study based on the Most Probable inflow scenario, and in accordance with the Drought Response Operational Agreement (DROA)), Reclamation has conducted model runs in November to determine a possible range of reservoir elevations under probable most and minimum inflow scenarios. The probable maximum information was run in the October 2022 24-Month Study. The probable minimum and probable maximum model runs are conducted simultaneously in January, April, August, and October, or when necessary to incorporate changing conditions. The probable minimum inflow scenario reflects a dry hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 90 percent of the time. The most probable inflow scenario reflects a median hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 50 percent of the time. The probable maximum inflow scenario reflects a wet hydrologic condition which statistically would be exceeded 10 percent of the time. There is approximately an 80 percent probability that a future elevation will fall inside the range of the minimum and maximum inflow scenarios. Additionally, there are possible inflow scenarios that would result in reservoir elevations falling outside the ranges indicated in these reports.
The DROA coordination will continue until either (i) the minimum probable projected elevation remains above 3,525 feet for 24 months or (ii) the process moves to the next step when the most probable projected elevation indicates Powell elevations below 3,525 feet and a Drought Response Operations Plan is developed. This 2022 Plan is described above and available for review here: https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/droa.html.
The November forecast for water year 2023 ranges from a minimum probable of 4.94 maf (51 percent of average) to a maximum probable of 14.74 maf (153 percent of average) with the most probable forecast for water year 2023 of 8.0 maf (83 percent of average). There is a 10 percent chance that inflows could be higher than the current maximum probable forecast and a 10 percent chance that inflows could be lower than the minimum probable forecast.
Based on the current forecast of 8.0 maf unregulated inflow for water year 2023, the November 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2023 near 3534.96 feet with approximately 6.14 maf in storage (26 percent of capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage for water year 2023 have significant uncertainty at this point in the season. Projections of end of water year 2023 elevation using the minimum inflow forecast results from the November 2022 model run for the minimum and the October maximum inflow forecast are 3,499.81 feet and 3,583.27 feet, respectively. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2023 will be 7.00 maf under the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier and will balance the contents between Powell and Mead with annual release volumes from Glen Canyon Dam between 7.00 maf and 9.50 maf as determined under Section 6.D.1 and 7.D of the Interim Guidelines as determined by the Department of the Interior as described above.
Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology
Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. The 30-year average was updated in October 2022 from 1981 through 2010 to 1991 through 2020. Shifting the period of record decreased the average unregulated inflow 1.20 maf. The period 2000-2022 is the lowest 23-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.29 maf, or 93 percent of the 30-year average (1991-2020). (For comparison, the 1991-2020 total water year average is 9.60 maf.) The unregulated inflow during the 2000-2022 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (28 percent of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (166 percent of average) in water year 2011. In water year 2021 unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 3.50 maf (36 percent of average), the second driest year on record above 2002. Under the current most probable forecast, the total water year 2023 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected to be 8.0 maf (86 percent of average).
At the beginning of water year 2023, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 19.54 maf (33 percent of 58.48 maf total system capacity). This is a decrease of 3.33 maf over the total storage at the beginning of water year 2022 when total system storage was 22.87 maf (39 percent of capacity). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year increases and decreases in response to wet and dry hydrology, ranging from a high of 94 percent of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to the now current level of 33 percent of capacity at the beginning of water year 2023. Based on current inflow forecasts, the current projected end of water year 2023 total Colorado Basin reservoir storage is approximately 18.70 maf (32 percent of total system capacity). The actual end of water year 2023 system storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding this season’s runoff and reservoir inflow.