The nation’s second-largest reservoir at Lake Powell is faring slightly better than last year, but water levels remain drastically low due to long-term drought and high water usage downstream.
As of Thursday, Lake Powell was 33% full—a significant improvement from early 2023 when it hit a record low capacity of just 22%, but still highly alarming to officials and residents given typical levels.
“The dry winter has not been kind to us,” said Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River commissioner.
Snowpack Levels Below Average
Shawcroft noted that mountain snowpack is crucial for replenishing Lake Powell, which is fed by the Colorado River as it makes its way through Northern Colorado and other states like Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.
“We don’t have a big storage reservoir sitting above us that we can just simply say, ‘we want x amount of water,’ and have it show up. Our snowpack is our reservoir,” Shawcroft said.
However, data from the USDA’s National Water and Climate Center revealed snowpack sites feeding into Lake Powell were only at 90% of typical levels on Thursday—10% below average.
Shawcroft estimates the reservoir will only get about 77% of expected annual water in 2024 based on projections. Ideal conditions would involve more atmospheric rivers bringing substantial precipitation.
Recent Utah Storm Unlikely to Have Major Impact
While a large storm did hit parts of Southern Utah on Thursday around Cedar City and St. George, Shawcroft noted those areas unfortunately do not contribute water to Lake Powell’s feeder rivers.
So the storm likely did not have a significant impact on raising water levels. More storms are desperately needed in specific areas that flow into the Colorado River and eventually Lake Powell.
Water Conservation Efforts Still Critical
In years with lower reservoir capacity, Shawcroft emphasized that continued water conservation efforts by Utah residents can make a meaningful difference over time.
“When we’re in these in-between years, it is absolutely critical. We need to pay attention not only every year but every day,” said Shawcroft.
The lower basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona are currently under shortage criteria as well, requiring cutbacks on water use.
Changes May Be Coming in 2026
Looking ahead, Shawcroft said there is still time to turn conditions around at Lake Powell before this year’s snowpack peak in April.
However, the reservoir also faces potential changes to its management and water allocation rules that expire in 2025. Negotiations are already underway to establish guidelines for 2026 and beyond.
Cover photo courtesy of: NASA