Colorado River flow expected to be down in 2012
A dry winter means there will be less water flowing in the lower Colorado River this summer.
“System wide total reservoir storage, as of April 4, was 63 percent of capacity,” said Doug Hendrix, external coordination manager for the Bureau of Reclamation's Yuma Area Office.
“This year has been a little bit drier year. The precipitation to date in the Upper Basin into the Upper Basin reservoirs has been about 79 percent of average.”
Another issue that means lower water levels was the very warm weather in March that prematurely melted an already small snowpack into the river's Upper Basin. Snow is the source of most of the river water flowing into the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.
Water levels in the river and lakes near Yuma may fluctuate slightly throughout the summer, Hendrix said. Blocks of water are released upriver periodically as water orders come in from entities such as the Yuma County Water Users Association and the Imperial Irrigation District, Hendrix explained.
“What we try to do is time the water deliveries to when they need the water down here. It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to release a big block of water when it is not needed. We try to time it so it is put to its optimal use.”
“We keep a fairly consistent level in the staging reservoirs on the way down, but you will see some fluctuation in the river as we bring water down this far to Senator's Wash or Lake Martinez.”
Water users needn't worry about not having enough.
With precipitation at 110 percent of average in the areas that fed the river in the winter of 2010-2011, plenty of water remains stored in reservoirs to meet the needs of municipalities and farmers all the way down to the Yuma area, Hendrix said.
The lower Colorado River is no stranger to drought, as it has experienced such conditions for over a decade.
“We went through roughly 12 consecutive years of drought and last year was one year out of many that we had above-average precipitation levels,” Hendrix said.
“It helped recharge the system somewhat, but when you've had 11 years behind that which were consecutively drier than average, it is going to take some time to recharge the system.”
At current levels, and if drought conditions occur in the future, there is about three years worth of water left, Hendrix noted.
“If we continue to have below-average precipitation beyond 2017-2018, we could start going back to where we were two or three years ago when it was getting critically low. But because we had a fairly decent water year last year, we are not down around those shortage declaration levels.”
As there is no way to control Mother Nature, “we certainly hope for wet weather,” Hendrix said. “It is a lot easier to move water when we have it than trying to stretch water when we don't have it.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.