Colorado River states formally agree to pause releases from Flaming Gorge

The reservoir straddling the Utah-Wyoming border, which is currently 67% full, will instead hold back 39,000 acre-feet of water, which would have otherwise been released downstream.

Providing enough water to irrigate approximately 20,000 acres of crops or to supply at least 80,000 urban households for one year is equivalent to that.

Water officials suggest that later this year, if necessary, the water in the Colorado River system could potentially provide additional versatility, enabling increased water storage at higher levels. This could potentially provide temporary relief for Flaming Gorge, despite the relatively small quantity of water involved.

For the millions of users who depend on it, electricity can no longer generate water levels in the reservoir. The reservoir, located at an elevation of 3,490 feet in Lake Powell, is referred to as Castle and serves as the minimum power pool. Speaking on March 1st, lawmakers in Colorado, Castle, who holds the position of U.S. Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, stated, “We have sufficient snowpack and we are less worried about Lake Powell reaching critical levels.”

Drought, excessive usage, and reduced water flow caused by climate change are working together to restore equilibrium in the midst of ongoing discussions to authorize a drought operations plan for 2023. In addition, a new temporary framework of operational principles has been introduced to aid in the recovery of the river until 2026. Furthermore, there is a federal requirement to permanently reduce water consumption by approximately 20% this year as federal water agencies and water users in the severely affected Colorado River Basin, spanning seven states, remain in a state of tension.

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The Colorado River is divided into two segments. The Upper Basin includes Wyoming and Utah, while the Lower Basin includes California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Last week, the Lower Basin states agreed to a pause in releases, as proposed by the Upper Basin states, after signing an amendment to the 2022 Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), according to Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In response to another year of ultra-low runoff, following a drought cycle that has lasted since 2002, releases from the Upper Basin reservoirs began in July 2021, resulting in a significant drop in the levels of Powell Lake.

Starting in 2021, 161,000 acre-feet of water was released from Flaming Gorge and Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir to help bolster Lake Powell.

The first round of releases in 2021 from Mesa Blue, Colorado’s hard-hit Gorge Flaming has just been taken. However, another 500,000 acre-feet of water will be authorized for releases starting in 2022.

This month, the release schedule will experience a temporary halt instead of the initially scheduled cessation at the conclusion of April 2023. That subsequent set of releases.

Currently under discussion are one of the major inquiries that remains undecided – the amount, if at all, that will be made available later in the year as a component of the 2023 drought operations strategy.

Prior to the temporary suspension of releases this week, approximately 460,000 acre-feet of water had been discharged, as stated by Reclamation.

The pause in releases comes as Colorado, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, might experience higher water levels this year than previously expected. This indicates that the massive seven-state system, primarily supplied by Colorado’s own section of the river, as well as the Yampa, Gunnison, and San Juan/Dolores basins, is benefiting from statewide snowpacks that are 123% of the average.

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The break should also offer some respite to the Upper Basin communities whose leisure economies rely on the reservoirs.

It is anticipated that snowpacks will also contribute to healthy conditions. It is expected that Mesa Blue will experience increased inflows, while Gorge Flaming is expected to receive inflows at an average of 105%. This information is based on the findings of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

As per Reclamation, the reservoir levels have experienced a decline over the past week, going from 3.2 million acre-feet in the spring of 2020 to 2.4 million acre-feet at Flaming Gorge on March 1st, for instance. When at maximum capacity, the reservoir can hold 3.8 million acre-feet of water and is the biggest in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

John Rauch, the operator of a marina situated on the massive reservoir, mentioned that water levels continue to decline at a rate of half to one inch per day in anticipation of further decreases. Since 2021, he and his team have been required to renovate the marina’s power system and relocate docks on several occasions.

Rauch said, “I am hoping for the best and planning for the worst. It seems inevitable to me that this winter will start again, and I am worried about the major drought we’ve had. People are getting lax about the big one that is not going to fix this winter.”

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