Lake Powell water levels could affect summer recreation

The Arkansas River at Salida during summer (photo by Joe Stone).

Efforts to raise the water level in Lake Powell during spring runoff could limit water available for whitewater recreation in the upper Arkansas River this summer.

From July 1 through August 15 each year, the Voluntary Flow Management Program coordinates releases of imported water from Twin Lakes Reservoir to supplement river flows and extend the whitewater recreation season.

Water to supplement river flows comes from the West Slope via the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which will likely experience limited imports due to Colorado Basin drought conditions that have caused the drop in Lake Powell water levels.

Additionally, a 2019 drought contingency plan signed by states in the Colorado River Basin aims to keep Lake Powell’s water level from dropping below 3,525 feet above sea level. At that level, Glen Canyon Dam has a 35-foot buffer for generating electricity for 3 million customers.

But as Chris Outcalt reports for The Colorado Sun, the water level at Lake Powell is expected to drop below that target in the next two weeks, according to Nick Williams, power manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Basin.

Last summer, the Bureau made emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County to maintain the target water level at Lake Powell, hitting the local economy with a shortened boating and fishing season.

Williams told Outcalt that Powell’s elevation level could drop as low as 3,522 feet, but he expects the reservoir will rise back up above 3,525 feet once spring runoff begins. 

Joe Stone