Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lake Powell. Photo by Caitlin Ocha for Reuters

Water in the West: In a surprise announcement, the seven Colorado River Basin states have actually agreed on something.

Based on a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, all seven states have agreed that releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir into the river can be paused, to allow for more snowpack to replenish the reservoir.

Flaming Gorge has been tapped for the past two years to provide water to help protect water levels in Lake Powell to ensure its hydroelectric power capacity. But starting Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will suspend extra water releases, at least for the time being. High snowpack across the basin, and unusually massive snowfall in California has served as a backdrop to the announcement on Tuesday.

Snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin is 120 to 140 percent of normal. In Arizona, a winter of rain has the Arizona state climatologist reporting that 2023 now ranks in the top five years for water it should get from the snowpack.

Paul Miller, a hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, talking with CNN, said that this is good news. “We’re well ahead of where we need to be from a snowpack perspective. We’re very optimistic right now that we’re in a good spot. This year is a good year to try and save water, to try to conserve water as best as we can; we have a lot of space in our reservoirs.”

Located in the far northeast portion of Utah, Flaming Gorge is one of the feeder reservoirs for the Colorado River Basin. The news of the pause is good news for the region, as Flaming Gorge is a designated national recreation area.

But the pause comes as a counter to this: in late February Lake Powell sank to its lowest water level since the reservoir was filled in the 1960s. Water levels have dropped more than 150 feet since 2000. The extraordinary snowfall this year is a good sign, but climatologists say that it would take several years of similar snowfall to erase the impacts of more than 20 years of drought in the West.