The Bureau of Land Reclamation has announced its 2024 water release and shortage guidelines for Lakes Mead and Powell following the results of its latest 24-Month Study.
Lake Mead is projected to move from a Level 2 to Level 1 Shortage Condition next year, marking an improvement for the strained reservoir on the heels of a wet winter and continued conservation efforts across the region. Under Level 1 restrictions, Arizona will see its water supply cut by 18%, Nevada by 7%, and Mexico by 5%.
Meanwhile, Lake Powell will operate under a Mid-Elevation Release Tier, which permits a higher volume release of 7.48 million acre-feet for the 2024 water year. This increased output comes as the lake level is expected to be at 3,574 feet, about 125 feet below capacity.
“Lakes Powell and Mead – the two largest reservoirs in the United States – remain at historically low levels,” said the Reclamation commissioner in a statement on Tuesday. Recent investments in system conservation funded by the Biden Administration’s Investing in America plan have aided water retention efforts at Lake Mead. The lake is releasing less water than it has in 30 years while still upholding Hoover Dam power generation.
The improved hydrology this year has allowed for some recovery of reservoir storage, officials indicated. However, Western states remain cautious despite the temporary relief. Conservation initiatives continue to ramp up across the region including in the Las Vegas Valley, one of the areas hit hardest by shortages.
With the 2007 guidelines for Lower Basin shortages set to expire in 2026, the Department of the Interior has begun mapping out water management plans for the Colorado River over the next 20 years. In May, Nevada, California, and Arizona reached a collaborative deal to conserve at least 3 million acre-feet through the end of 2026 to protect Lake Mead and the river.
Cover photo courtesy of: Stuart Rankin