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Feds: Southern Nevadans will see more water from Colorado River in 2024

Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo

A wet winter in 2023 means slightly more water in 2024 for Southern Nevadans who rely on the Colorado River.

According to a United States Bureau of Reclamation report released Tuesday, the state will see only a 7 percent reduction in its water allocation in 2024 — compared to the 8 percent, about 25,000 acre-feet, it saw this year — due to ongoing drought conditions.

Nevada’s annual allocation of the Colorado River is 300,000 acre-feet — enough water to cover 300,000 football fields with a foot of water.

The bureau releases monthly water reports, but water managers watch the August report closely because it determines the tiers of operation for Lake Powell and Lake Mead under the 2007 operating guidelines for the reservoirs, as well as the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plans.

In other words, it projects Lake Mead’s elevation for the upcoming January and is used to determine future allocations.

"With ongoing conservation efforts, Southern Nevada is in good shape. But one good, wet year in the Colorado River Basin does not change the long-term outlook,” John Entsminger, general manager of Southern Nevada Water Authority, said in an email. “The future is warmer and drier due to climate change and every water user in every sector needs to use less so we can build resiliency through improved water efficiency."

Runoff projections into Lake Powell are provided by the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Following a historic winter, the unregulated inflow into Lake Powell during July was 1.05 million acre- feet – 109 percent of the 30-year average from 1991 to 2020. The August 2023 unregulated inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 0.43 million acre-feet, about 114 percent of the 30-year average.

“The above-average precipitation this year was a welcome relief, and coupled with our hard work for system conservation, we have the time to focus on the long-term sustainability solutions needed in the Colorado River Basin. However, Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the two largest reservoirs in the United States and the two largest storage units in the Colorado River system — remain at historically low levels,” Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said in a statement.

Combined, Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at 36 percent of their total storage.

Reclamation forecasts Lake Powell’s elevation to be 3,568.7 feet this coming January — about 130 feet below full. The agency expects to release 7.48 million acre-feet from Lake Powell, which sits upstream of Lake Mead, in 2024.

Lake Mead’s elevation is expected to reach 1,065.27 feet on Jan. 1 — about 10 feet below the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet and about 25 feet below the drought contingency plan trigger of 1,090 feet.

The operating conditions will be in effect until guidelines from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are finalized. Reclamation is analyzing the SEIS’ proposed alternatives, including a voluntary reduction of 3 million acre-feet by California, Arizona and Nevada through the end of 2026, when operating guidelines are set to expire.

Over the past two decades, Nevadans have decreased the amount of water they use from the Colorado River by 31 percent. Last year, Nevadans used 224,000 acre-feet of water.


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