Expect closures and a drop in already low levels
[ By Kendra Walker ]
As you plan your water activities on the Blue Mesa this August, expect some closures and drops in water level. In order to help keep Lake Powell producing hydropower, starting in August water from the Blue Mesa Reservoir will be diverted to supplement Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Curecanti National Recreation Area advises folks to expect closures of boat ramps, marina slips and other related facilities throughout August as the water drops.
The Blue Mesa’s elevation is currently 7,458.79 feet. Federal officials said the water levels are projected to drop to 7,423 feet by the end of October, a drop of 96 feet from full pool. However, according to the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District’s district attorney John McClow, the release is not expected to impact irrigation, recreation or other water uses upstream of the reservoir on the Upper Gunnison Basin.
Lake Powell’s water year 2021 predicted unregulated inflow volume has decreased 2.5 million acre-feet since January, and is predicted to see only 3.2 million acre-feet, or 30 percent, of natural inflow this year. In order to protect its target elevation where water levels are in danger of falling below its electric turbine intake, three Colorado River Basin reservoirs will deliver a total of 181,000 acre feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of the year.
“The Bureau of Reclamation recognized that conditions were dry and we have been working since 2013 to address things that could occur under very dry conditions,” said McClow. “This was prepared as part of a plan that’s been in place since 2019 that offered a variety of scenarios. Based on the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision, this additional water was necessary to protect the target level of storage in Lake Powell.”
Beginning in August, 36,000 acre-feet will be taken from the Blue Mesa over a 60-day period. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will also take water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Navajo Reservoir.
According to McClow, the Blue Mesa holds about 900,000 acre-feet. “It isn’t a huge dent in the storage but of course this year the Blue Mesa is very low,” he said.
McClow said the water release will have no impact on irrigators on the Upper Gunnison Basin. “They will take their legal diversions before the water gets to the reservoir. It won’t have any impact on water uses upstream of the reservoir, whether for agriculture, fishing, recreation, etc.,” said McClow. “The reservoir will be lower and that may have an impact on recreation on the reservoir but because it’s already so low I think people are already aware.”
According to Curecanti National Recreation Area, the reservoir will remain open to shore-based recreation and hand-launched watercraft as boat ramps are closed.
McClow also said that the water release will not impact Taylor Park Reservoir’s release. “Taylor Park Reservoir and Blue Mesa are not connected in this context.”
Per the agreement, there will be no other releases this year and the reservoirs are supposed to recover these additional releases before any new release occurs. “The plan is to recover this water next year, but it is possible that if conditions become any more dire, next year additional release may occur,” said McClow.