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Lake Powell's levels projected to drop below critical threshold

The dry winter season may push the lake's levels down below an important benchmark until mountain snow can replenish the reservoir.

LAKE POWELL, Ariz. — Lake Powell's water levels are on the cusp of dropping below a critical benchmark and federal officials don't expect the reservoir's supply to be replenished until May. 

As of Thursday, the lake's levels were hovering inches above 3,525 feet, which is the threshold local officials set as the "target elevation" while drafting the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan Agreements.   

The threshold is a 35-foot-buffer above the lowest point where the Glen Canyon Dam can continue generating hydropower. The dam supplies power to millions of customers in the West.

The lake, located along the Arizona-Utah border, releases water downstream to Lake Mead, which serves as an important water resource for Arizona, Nevada, and California. 

The Bureau of Reclamation announced this month it expects the lake to temporarily drop below the 3,525-threshold until the spring runoff can restore water levels over the next couple of months.  

Sporadic weather patterns have contributed to the lake levels dipping beneath the threshold, the agency said.

“This year the Colorado River Basin has experienced extremely variable conditions with a record high snowpack one month, followed by weeks without snow,” said Reclamation Acting Commissioner David Palumbo. “This variable hydrology and a warmer, drier west have drastically impacted our operations and we are faced with the urgent need to manage in the moment.”

After the Drought Contingency Plan was settled in 2019, it required the Upper Basin states and the bureau to develop a coordinated strategy to send down water from upstream reservoirs to Lake Powell once its levels dropped below 3,525 feet.

The bureau has already taken steps to keep water levels above the target elevation by reducing monthly releases from Glen Canyon Dam and sending 161,000 acre-feet of water from Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs to Lake Powell. 

Officials said the spring runoff should be enough to replenish the lake back above the threshold. But they expect levels to drop below the benchmark again later this year. 

At this same time 10 years ago, Lake Powell's level was at 3,635 feet and has been steadily declining in the following years, according to the bureau's data.

To reach its full capacity, the lake would have to be 3,700 feet above sea level.

RELATED: Why snow, not water, is what's needed to stop Arizona's drought

RELATED: Low Lake Powell water levels force closure of several launch ramps

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: Se prevé que los niveles del agua del Lake Powell caigan por debajo del umbral crítico

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