Author Archives: WesternWater

Colorado River Water Year 2001

Water Year 2001 Details

  • The UCOL summary report (USGS Circular 1214) was published in April 2001. Contact study unit personnel for a copy of this report. A pdf version of the summary report is available in the “publications section“.
  • Two UCOL surface water sites were selected for inclusion in the NAWQA Cycle II Trends Network (see map below). This network replaces the low intensity phase sampling network of NAWQA Cycle I.Site 09163500, Colorado River at Colorado-Utah state line is the outlet of the study unit. The site is an integrator for all land-use and anthropogenic affects on water quality.

    Dry Fork of Roan Creek, station 09095300, was chosen as a reference site for the Colorado Plateau physiographic province. There is a small amount of ranching in the basin, but the site is representative of small streams in the region. This site was operated during the HIP of 1996-1998 and was reestablished in November 2000 as part of the surface water trends network.

  • Data collected at these sites were published in the 2001 Annual Data Report. This report is available as a pdf file
    • WY 2001
      • Colorado River at Colorado-Utah State Line page 284 of the pdf file
      • Dry Fork of Roan Creek page 208 of the pdf file
  • Field notes, data, and publications produced during the Cycle I high intensity phase of the UCOL are being indexed and archived for future use.

Colorado River System Reservoir Status

Current Status: Lake Powell

The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell in May was 2,377 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (101 percent of average).  The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in May was 652 kaf.  The end of May elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3619 ft (81 feet from full pool) and 13.67 maf (56% of full capacity), respectively.  The reservoir reached a seasonal low elevation on March 15th near elevation 3593.85 feet. Since that time the reservoir elevation has been increasing and will continue to increase throughout mid-summer as runoff from snowmelt and precipitation enter the reservoir.

To view the most current reservoir elevation, content, inflow and release, click on: Lake Powell Data.
To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.
To view the 2017 progession of snowpack above Lake Powell, click on Lake Powell Snow Chart.
To view the current inflow forecast relative to past inflows, click on Lake Powell Inflow Forecast

Current Operations

The operating tier for water year 2017 was established in August 2016 as the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier.  The April 2017 24-Month Study established that Lake Powell operations will be governed by balancing for the remainder of water year 2017.  Under balancing, the contents of Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be balanced by the end of the water year, but not more than 9.0 maf and not less than 8.23 maf shall be released from Lake Powell.  Based on the most probable inflow forecast, this May 24-Month Study projects a balancing release of 9.0 maf in water year 2017.  Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible the appropriate total annual release volume by September 30, 2017.

In June, the release volume will be approximately 750 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 9,000 cfs in the nighttime to about 15,000 cfs in the daytime and consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997).  The anticipated release volume for July is 850 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 9,500 cfs and 17,500 cfs.  The expected release for August is 900 kaf with daily fluctuations between approximately 10,000 cfs and 18,000 cfs.

In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 megawatts (mw) of system regulation.  These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,200 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate.  Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.

Colorado River Uses and Losses

Colorado River System Consumptive Uses and Losses Reports

The main stem of the Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, flows southwesterly about 1,400 miles and terminates in the Gulf of California. Its drainage area of 242,000 square miles in this country represents one-fifteenth of the area of the United States. Water is used for irrigation, municipal and industrial purposes, electric power generation, mineral activities, livestock, fish and wildlife, and recreation. Large amounts are exported from the system to adjoining areas.

The Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, Public Law 90-537, directs the Secretary of the Interior to “make reports as to the annual consumptive uses and losses of water from the Colorado River System after each successive five-year period, beginning with the five-year period starting on October 1, 1970. Such reports shall be prepared in consultation with the States of the lower Basin individually and with the Upper Colorado River Commission and shall be transmitted to the President, the Congress, and to the Governors of each State signatory to the Colorado River Compact.”

These reports reflect the Department of the Interior’s best estimate of actual consumptive uses and losses for each year within the Colorado River Basin. The reliability of the estimates is affected by the availability of data and the current capabilities of data evaluation.

The reports include a breakdown of the beneficial consumptive use by major types of use (except mainstream reservoir evaporation), by major tributary streams, and, where possible, by individual States.

Drought Information

The USGS monitors drought conditions across the Nation by comparing below-normal 7-day average streamflow with historical streamflow for that day of the year.

Drought Resources

  • Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Drought Monitoring: A team of researchers from the EROS Data Center, the National Drought Mitigation Center, and the High plains Regional Climate Center are developing methods for regional-scale mapping and monitoring of drought conditions for the conterminous U.S.
  • U.S. Drought Monitor: a synthesis of multiple indices and impacts, that represents a consensus of federal and academic scientists. The product will be refined over time as we find ways to make it better reflect the needs of decision-makers and others who use the information.
  • NRCS Water Supply Forecast: A water supply forecast is a prediction of streamflow volume that will flow past a point on a stream during a specified season, typically in the spring and summer. The NRCS, in cooperation with the National Weather Service, issues water supply forecasts for over 750 points in the western United States near the first of the month between January and June each year and at other times as requested.
  • National Drought Mitigation Center: The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) helps people and institutions develop and implement measures to reduce societal vulnerability to drought, stressing preparedness and risk management rather than crisis management.
  • U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook: The National Weather Service provides a seasonal drought outlook map based on many tools including forecasts, temperature and precipitation outlooks, and medium- and short-range models.
  • U.S. Drought portal: part of the National Integrated Drought Information System, this web site is part of an interactive system to provide early warning about emerging and anticipated droughts, assimilate and quality control data about droughts and models, provide information about risk and impact of droughts to different agencies and stakeholders, provide information about past droughts for comparison and to understand current conditions, explain how to plan for and manage the impacts of droughts, and provide a forum for different stakeholders to discuss drought-related issues
  • NRCS weekly drought reports, SNOTEL data, year-to-date water-equivalent, and precipitation graphs by basin

Man Made Water Shortage

Earlier this year, with the effects of a multi-year drought becoming even more serious, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) ordered cities and towns to cut water use by 25 percent. The State Water Resources Control Board later approved rules encouraging residents to let their lawns die. Meanwhile, farmers have struggled mightily to maintain their crops. Half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the United States are grown in California, and this crisis poses a serious threat to the state’s agriculture and the millions of Americans who rely on it.

The fact that this was completely avoidable makes it even more frustrating. Investor’s Business Daily explained last year:

California’s system of aqueducts and storage tanks was designed long ago to take advantage of rain and mountain runoff from wet years and store it for use in dry years. But it’s now inactive — by design. …

Environmental special interests managed to dismantle the system by diverting water meant for farms to pet projects, such as saving delta smelt, a baitfish. That move forced the flushing of 3 million acre-feet of water originally slated for the Central Valley into the ocean over the past five years. …

The shutdown has been made worse by the inaction of California’s Democrats, who for years have refused to build adequate storage facilities so that rainwater and snowmelt runoff can be stored for use by a growing population during dry years, another element of the earlier system. With no storage, the rain goes wasted.

Why is this particular fish worth inflicting so much pain on so many people? It’s not:

As fish go, it is undistinguished. Inedible, short-lived, and growing to a maximum length of just under three inches, smelt are of interest to nobody much — except, that is, to the implacable foot soldiers of the modern environmental movement, some of whom have recently elevated the smelt’s well-being above all else that has traditionally been considered to be of value. Human beings, the production of food, and the distribution of life-enabling water can all be damned, it seems. All hail the smelt, the most important animal in America.

The Central Valley’s woes began in earnest in 2007, when the hardline Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won a lawsuit against California’s intricate water-delivery system, sending farmers like John Harris into a tailspin. In court, the NRDC’s lawyers contended that the vast pumps that help to funnel water from the reservoirs up in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta down to the Central Valley, to Southern California, and to the Bay Area were sucking in and shredding an unacceptable number of smelt — and, the smelt being protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1994, that this was illegal.

Given that the NRDC has long wished for farming operations in the valley to be curtailed on the peculiar grounds that it isn’t native to the area, this struck many observers as rather too convenient. … [But a federal judge] ruled that the protections afforded to the smelt were insufficient and ordered the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a new “biological opinion” on the matter — this time without deciding that the smelt was in “no jeopardy.” And that, as they say, was that. … In 2007, the pumps were turned down; the Delta’s water output was lowered dramatically, contingent now upon the interests of a fish; and the farms that rely on the system in order to grow their crops were thrown into veritable chaos. Predictably, a man-made drought began.

If ever there was a phrase that perfectly encapsulates liberal environmentalists’ backwards priorities and regressive ideology of restriction and scarcity, it is the one now displayed on a government sign in Arcadia, California: “It’s ‘green’ to go brown.”

Western States Groundwater

Approximately fifty participants [EPA Regions 8-10, western states (i.e., AK, CA, CO, HI, ID, NM, NV, OR, UT) and various other source water professionals] attended the May event held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. The Forum brought together source water partners to share and discuss solutions to source water and groundwater protection challenges in the West.

Day One of the Forum featured fourteen speakers covering a variety of topics linked to source water protection including: climate change; recycled water; fire; agriculture; low impact development; local collaboratives; and on-site wastewater management.

Day Two utilized “Open Space”, a dynamic and engaging meeting technique, and featured nineteen breakout discussions covering a range of source water topics. Day Two also included a field trip to sites in the Carmel River watershed highlighting (1) the use of recycled water for irrigation and conservation of source water, and (2) water resource management in the Carmel River system.

Day Three (a half day) involved: a review of breakout summaries from the Day Two; group prioritization of breakout topics warranting further discussion; a group exercise to draw links between priority topics; and a discussion of next steps. Attendees came away from the meeting energized from the presentations and discussions, with newly formed working relationships and constructive ideas for addressing source water protection issues.

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s PDF page to learn more about PDF, and for a link to the free Adobe Reader.

Colorado River Study

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado and Lower Colorado Regions, in collaboration with representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin States submitted a Proposal in June 2009 to fund the “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study” under Reclamation’s Basin Study Program. In September 2009, the Study was selected for funding.

The Study, which began in January 2010, was completed in December 2012. It defined current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin and the adjacent areas of the Basin States that receive Colorado River water for approximately the next 50 years, and developed and analyzed adaptation and mitigation strategies to resolve those imbalances.

Click on this Study Map for full size version

The Study characterized current and future water supply and demand imbalances in the Basin and assessed the risks to Basin resources. Resources include water allocations and deliveries consistent with the apportionments under the Law of the River; hydroelectric power generation; recreation; fish, wildlife, and their habitats (including candidate, threatened, and endangered species); water quality including salinity; flow- and water-dependent ecological systems; and flood control.

The Study confirmed what most experts know: there are likely to be significant shortfalls between projected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin in the coming decades.  Following the call to action of the Study, all that rely on the Colorado are taking initial steps – working together – to identify positive solutions that can be implemented to meet the challenges ahead.


About the Water Plan
What is the California Water Plan?

Required by the California Water Code Section 10005(a), the California Water Plan (Water Plan) is the State government’s strategic plan for managing and developing water resources statewide for current and future generations. It provides a collaborative planning framework for elected officials, agencies, tribes, water and resource managers, businesses, academia, stakeholders, and the public to develop findings and recommendations and make informed decisions for California’s water future.

The plan, updated every five years, presents the status and trends of California’s water-dependent natural resources; water supplies; and agricultural, urban, and environmental water demands for a range of plausible future scenarios. The Water Plan also evaluates different combinations of regional and statewide resource management strategies to reduce water demand, increase water supply, reduce flood risk, improve water quality, and enhance environmental and resource stewardship. The evaluations and assessments performed for the plan help identify effective actions and policies for meeting California’s resource management objectives in the near term and for several decades to come.

By statue, the Water Plan cannot mandate actions or authorize spending for specific actions. Each update makes neither project-specific nor site-specific recommendations; therefore, it does not include environmental review and documentation as would be required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Policy-makers and lawmakers must take definitive steps to authorize the specific actions proposed in the Water Plan and appropriate the funding needed for their implementation. This underscores the need to have broad public participation and support for the Water Plan in order to have its objectives and recommendations realized.

Water Plan History

For almost 60 years, the Water Plan has served as the long-term strategic plan for informing and guiding the sound management and development of water resources in the state. With updates every five years, this plan reaffirms the State’s commitment to integrated water management.

The development of the Water Plan dates back to the late 1800’s. The first plan, which covered ideas for water distribution in the state, was put together in 1873 (see Previous Reports). Subsequent reports (plans) were issued as California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) bulletins.

The initial Water Plan (known as Bulletin 3) was released in 1957 under the direction of DWR’s first Director, Harvey Oren Banks. The Water Plan was intended for “control, protection, conservation, distribution, and utilization of all the waters of California, to meet present and future needs for all beneficial uses and purposes in all areas of the state to the maximum feasible extent.” For the most part, Bulletin 3 and subsequent updates were technical documents focused on water supply development. Overtime, the plans were gradually expanded to reflect the growling conflicts over California’s limited water resources.

Since Water Plan Update 1998, the Water Plan has moved from a technical document focused on water supply development to evaluating options for addressing pressing water issues in California.

Water Plan Updates
Update 2018 (in development)

The California Water Plan Update 2018 is currently in development. Update 2018 and subsequent updates will provide a State venue for monitoring, evaluating, recommending actions, and adapting to keep California on a path of sustainability. Please visit the Update 2018 page for more up-to-date information.


The Colorado River is one of the most extensively managed bodies of water in the United States. Serving an estimated 30 million people and an area with roughly 3.5 million acres of farmland, most of it irrigated, the use of water in the River is controlled by a complex collection of laws, court decisions, interstate compacts and regulations. This body of documents is known collectively as the “Law of the River.”

Major elements of the Law of the River include:

●      The Colorado River Compact of 1922, the interstate agreement, ratified by the federal government, that divided the rights to water in the river between the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.

●      The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928, which not only authorized the construction of Hoover Dam, but also apportioned the water available to the Lower Basin among the three states involved.

●      The Arizona v. California US Supreme Court Decision of 1964, which finally settled a 25-year dispute between the two states over their competing claims to the River. The decision also perfected the legal rights of five Colorado River tribes to their share of the water.

●      The Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, which authorized the construction of the Central Arizona Project.

●      Treaty agreements between the United States and Mexico providing for Mexico’s rights to a share of the water in the River.

For Kids

Water is life!

  • There is the same amount of water on Earth as there was when the Earth was formed. The water from your faucet could contain molecules that dinosaurs drank.
  • Water is composed of two elements, Hydrogen and Oxygen. 2 Hydrogen + 1 Oxygen = H2O.
  • Nearly 97% of the world’s water is salty or otherwise undrinkable. Another 2% is locked in ice caps and glaciers. That leaves just 1% for all of humanity’s needs — all its agricultural, residential, manufacturing, community, and personal needs.
  • Water regulates the Earth’s temperature. It also regulates the temperature of the human body, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, cushions joints, protects organs and tissues, and removes wastes.
  • 75% of the human brain is water and 75% of a living tree is water.
  • A person can live about a month without food, but only about a week without water.
  • Water is part of a deeply interconnected system. What we pour on the ground ends up in our water, and what we spew into the sky ends up in our water.
  • The average total home water use for each person in the U.S. is about 50 gallons a day.
  • The average cost for water supplied to a home in the U.S. is about $2.00 for 1,000 gallons, which equals about 5 gallons for a penny.
  • Water expands by 9% when it freezes. Frozen water (ice) is lighter than water, which is why ice floats in water.