Advocacy group says research shows that maintaining at a higher level could save water, help restore Colorado River ecosystems
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The porous sandstone along the shore of Lake Powell may soak up as much as 380,000 acre-feet of water each year — more than Nevada’s entire annual allocation of Colorado River water, according to a new study by hydrologist Thomas Myers.
The research, published in the Journal of the America Water Resources Association, supports the idea of reconfiguring the way water is stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead with the overall goal of using the Colorado River in the most efficient way possible, according to Glen Canyon Institute director Christi Wedig.
“At a time of impending water shortages, it is imperative to maximize efficiency the Colorado River storage system,” Wedig said. “Dr. Myers’ study has confirmed that Lake Powell is a major source of water loss, and a potential source of major savings.
Wedig’s organization is dedicated restoring Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, and a free-flowing Colorado River, and has been advocating for an approach that would emphasize filling Lake Mead, downstream of Lake Powell, first. The group says the Fill Mead First option could result in significant water savings in the short term, without costing too much.
“This hydrologic study provides strong evidence that Fill Mead First would save or recover large amounts of water now being lost to the Colorado River through evaporation and seepage,” said Michael Kellett, program director of Glen Canyon Institute. “Based on this study and other data compiled by Dr. Myers, the savings could total as much as 300,000 acre-feet of water per year.”
Shifting the priority of storage to Lake Mead could also avoid curtailment of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona and Utah under a set of federal interim guidelines that kick in when water levels in Lake Mead drop down to a certain level. Lake Mead is projected to hover near that level (elevation 1,075 feet) by May 2015, following two years of well below-average flows in the Colorado River Basin. If it drops below that mark, millions of people in Arizona and Nevada will feel the pain.
Changing the way water is allocated between the two reservoirs could require tweaking the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which has been seen as sacrosanct by some western water managers. At present, there’s not much enthusiasm for making any changes to the multi-state water deal, but a few years of drought could change that.
The Myers study found flaws in the model used to guide Colorado River reservoir operations. According to Myers, much of the water that is accounted for as “bank storage’ is actually bank seepage — water that is lost from the system permanently.Bank seepage is water that enters the reservoir banks and will return to the reservoir very slowly, if at all.
Lower the level of Lake Powell could reduce bank seepage and evaporation from the surface, and even recover some water that is already stored in the banks, Myers concluded in his study. Filling Lake Mead First would lower Lake Powell and increase storage in Lake Mead downstream, allowing substantial recovery of Glen Canyon and more-natural water flows to help restore Grand Canyon.
The Glen Canyon Institute submitted Fill Mead First to the Bureau of Reclamation as an option for consideration in the recently completed Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study. But federal officials did not conduct a thorough analysis of the option, contending that it would not result in water savings.
“The Bureau of Reclamation did not have the Myers study available when it decided not to give the Fill Mead First proposal a detailed assessment,” said Wedig. “In light of the study’s findings, the Bureau of Reclamation should take a serious look at the potential of Fill Mead First to save Colorado River water.”
Fill Mead First Savings https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxgRyut3eB3KbW1NeW5SYkkwNjA/edit?usp=sharing
GCI’s Fill Mead First Proposal https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxgRyut3eB3KcHp4bE12VUFnU2M/edit?usp=sharing