LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) has published its scoping summary after two online meetings in November and December about the operations of the Hoover Dam at Lake Mead and the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell.

The agency said there is a need to “revise operating guidelines for the operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover sams in 2023-24 operating years in order to address the potential for continued low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin.”

According to the USBR website, “Reclamation has concluded that the potential impacts of low runoff conditions in the coming winter (2022-2023) pose unacceptable risks to routine operations of Glen Canyon and Hoover dams during the interim period (prior to Jan. 1, 2027) and accordingly, modified operating guidelines need to be expeditiously developed.”

Hemenway Harbor at Lake Mead. Feb. 5 (Photo: Duncan Phenix – KLAS)

During the comment period, the USBR received more than 1,300 comments through email and mail. Comments include regular citizens voicing opinions and large governing entities such as the California Department of Water Resources, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Sierra Club.

The mission of the Bureau of Reclamation is to manage, develop and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Overall there appears to be a majority of comments in favor of something being done, but at the same time, many people want to make sure the government protects public access to the water, especially for recreational purposes such and boating and fishing.

Alternative suggestions were abundant. The primary alternative scenarios are summarized by the USBR below:

  • Reservoir Operations Modification Alternative or Federal Alternative: Comments provide recommendations for how Reclamation may structure a federal alternative based on the federal government’s authority and applicable federal laws, regulations and policies. One of the main components of this alternative is the continued ability for Reclamation to meet its existing water delivery and hydropower commitments.
  • Evaporation, Seepage and System Losses: Comments for this alternative request that Reclamation develop a federal alternative that accounts for water evaporation, seepage and system losses.
  • Framework Agreement Alternative: Comments for this alternative support a framework alternative developed in coordination with the Basin States and their stakeholders. This alternative would account for management actions that are outside of Reclamation’s authority and would require commitments from the Basin States to implement, such as modifications to the Drought Contingency Plan and implementing state and local level conservation measures. Commenters noted that the Basin States are working collaboratively to provide Reclamation with a consensus agreement and that Reclamation should continue to work with these stakeholders in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process. Six Basin States (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) submitted a consensus-based alternative (refer to the Colorado River Basin State Representatives submittal for detailed components of this alternative). California submitted a separate alternative proposal.
  • BlueRibbon Coalition/Recreation Alternative: As described in the form letter summary above, comments request that Reclamation consider a recreation-based alternative that would prioritize maintaining water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell to serve recreational boating needs (e.g., BlueRibbon Coalition’s “Path to 3588′ Plan”). Other recreation-based alternative suggestions include maintaining river flows to support rafting in the Grand Canyon and alternatives that preserve existing recreation facilities (e.g., boat launches, marinas, etc.).
  • Conservation Alternative: Comments suggest that Reclamation design an alternative that maintains Colorado River flows and supports ecosystem needs. A conservation-based alternative would also include cuts to water allocations and implementing water conservation measures in the Lower Basin.
  • Worst-Case Drought Alternative: Comments suggest that Reclamation design an alternative that is responsive to “worst-case” drought modeling. Commenters expressed concern that the existing hydrology modeling does not represent the full range of potential drought scenarios and that an alternative is needed to address prolonged drought conditions.
  • One-Dam Alternatives: Comments suggest an alternative that prioritizes the preservation of one dam and reservoir (Hoover Dam/Lake Mead or Glen Canyon Dam/Lake Powell) over the other.
  • Infrastructure Preservation Alternative: Comments suggest an alternative that prioritizes preservation of the hydropower production and operations and considers the contractual obligations for power delivery.

The USBR has shared all of the email comments to date, the links from the USBR to the emails are listed below in alphabetical order (.pdf files will open in new tab):

This week, Lake Powell hit a record low at 3,522.12 feet on Wednesday — below the previous low in April 2022 of 3,522.24 feet. The latest projections show Lake Powell dropping to 3,520.42 feet next month — about 20% full. Beyond that projections show the lake filling as the government protects the water level to ensure normal hydropower production through Glen Canyon Dam.

Lake Mead’s surface is currently 1,047.51 above sea level. This is more than 181 feet lower than the lake’s full pool. USBR projections show Lake Mead could drop between 16 to 20 feet this coming summer which would leave it at its lowest level since it was originally filled.  A year after that, the forecast shows Lake Mead at 1,015.99 feet — another drop of more than 15 feet.