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Upper Colorado River Basin Drought

The Upper Colorado River Basin is experiencing a protracted multi-year drought. Since 1999, inflow to Lake Powell has been below average in every year except one.

In the summer of 1999, Lake Powell was essentially full with reservoir storage at 23.5 million acre-feet, or 97 percent of capacity. Inflow to Lake Powell in 1999 was 109 percent of average. The manifestation of drought conditions in the Upper Colorado River Basin began in the fall months of 1999. A five year period of extreme drought occurred in water years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 with unregulated inflow to Lake Powell only 62, 59, 25, 51, and 49 percent of average, respectively. Lake Powell storage decreased through this five-year period, with reservoir storage reaching a low of 8.0 million acre-feet (33 percent of capacity) on April 8, 2005.

Drought conditions eased in water year 2005 in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Precipitation was above average in 2005 and unregulated inflow to Lake Powell was 105 percent of average. Lake Powell increased by 2.77 million acre-feet (31 feet in elevation) during water year 2005. But as is often the case, one favorable year does not necessarily end a protracted drought. In 2006, there was a return to drier conditions in the Colorado River Basin. Unregulated inflow to Lake Powell in water year 2006 was only 71 percent of average.

Water year 2007 was another year of below average inflow with unregulated inflow into Lake Powell at 68 percent of average. Over the past 8 years (2000 through 2007, inclusive), inflow to Lake Powell has been below average in all but one year (2005). Drought conditions have eased again in water year 2008 with projected inflows to the main stem Colorado River reservoirs at or above normal. Reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin, however, is still below desired levels with the overall Colorado River system storage (above Lake Mead) projected to be about 58% of capacity at the end of water year 2008.

Reservoir storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead has decreased during the past 8 years but is projected to increase by the end of water year 2008. Current reservoir storage in Lake Powell is 62 percent of capacity. Storage in Lake Mead is 46 percent of capacity.

This release courtesy Rick Clayton, Hydraulic Engineer, Upper Colorado Region US Bureau of Reclamation
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