GREELEY, Colorado – Reservoirs along the Colorado River are projected to be less than half full by summer’s end, potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.
Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the river’s reservoirs – Lakes Mead and Powell among them – to be at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September. That would be one of the lowest points ever for the combined water storage.
Without significant rainfall this summer and fall and above-average snow next winter, the combined reservoir storage could dip to 44 percent of capacity by April 2019, according to the bureau’s models.
The previous low for total system storage came April 1, 2014, after the two driest consecutive years recorded in the vast watershed, when the river’s reservoirs were at 47 percent of capacity.
“We’re in uncharted territory for the system,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the water wholesaler for greater Los Angeles, which relies on the Colorado River for a portion of its supplies. “Everything is new, and it’s all bleak. None of it is positive.”
The root cause is twofold: Low snowpack last winter is depleting reservoirs already sapped by nearly two decades of drought.