2022 Hydrology Round-up
With October 1 signaling the start of a new water year, the twelve-month retrospective showcased a year of unmet expectations. Some resulted from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center’s January 2022 24-month study, which predicted Lake Powell inflow at almost double the ultimate reality. On the other hand, a gloomy outlook from NOAA in May predicting another exceptionally hot, dry summer, was thankfully quashed with a robust monsoon season.
In his Colorado River Basin Conditions and Outlook memo to the Board of Directors, Director of Science & Interstate Matters, Dave “DK” Kanzer offered some additional hydrologic bright points. Most prominently, soil moisture levels are better than they have been in almost a decade, according to recent reports. Western Slope agriculture producers are also reporting strong harvests, supported by regular bouts of moisture. The Colorado River flows at the Utah state line were also vastly improved over last year, though still well below 30-year averages.
Fallout from our multi-decadal drought isn’t immediately fixed by one ‘better than expected’ monsoon season, however. Low reservoir levels continue to signal a crisis across the Western Slope and the Colorado River Basin. Blue Mesa Reservoir, for example, sits at just 39% full as of September 7. The historically-low elevation has contributed to a current outbreak of toxic blue-green algae in the remaining pool. Flaming Gorge Reservoir sank to 73% of average thanks to the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2022 Drought Response Operations, which sent a total of 500,000 acre feet of water to Lake Powell.
The two largest storage systems in the basin, Lakes Powell and Mead, continue to hover around 24% and 28% respectively as of October 10, 2022.
Long term forecasts and modeling have struggled to accurately capture our current climate reality. However, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center is indicating a 91% chance of a ‘Triple Dip’ La Niña this winter. Known for its role in creating warmer, drier winter trends in the Southwest, La Niña can also be unpredictable with locally higher amounts in the Norther Colorado Rockies.
Even if deep snow totals precipitated this winter, next year’s outlook for reservoir operations would not be greatly changed. The Colorado River Basin system is so far depleted that it would take several sequential years of above-average snowpack to change the long-term outlook.
In addition to hydrology, the Board of Directors will also hear from General Manager Andy Mueller on developments related to interstate discussions after a summer of intense scrutiny and national headlines. Director of Government Relations Zane Kessler will report on state and federal legislation, and Director of Strategic Partnerships Amy Moyer will present staff recommendations for four new Community Funding Partnership projects.