Federal water managers say they believe Lake Powell will rise anywhere between 50 and 90 feet this spring and summer after the nation's second-largest reservoir dropped to its all-time low again earlier this year.
The reservoir's water level rose to 3,524.2 feet elevation by Tuesday, representing about 22.7% capacity. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say that the water levels could rise to anywhere between 3,575 feet and 3,615 feet by the end of June, according to an outlook published last week. The most probable scenario is that the reservoir jumps to 3,590 feet elevation, or about 65 feet, by June, before dropping to 3,573.47 feet elevation by the end of the year.
The lake would remain about 110 to 126.5 feet below full-pool status in the probable scenario but it would also place the reservoir between 80 and 100 feet above the minimum pool level needed to generate power.
The increase comes as the National Weather Service's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center adjusted its snowmelt forecast to project that 1.3 million acre-feet worth of water will flow toward Lake Powell over the next few months, 177% of the average.
Lake Mead, located downstream from Lake Powell, is also expected to rise this year, though, how much it rises is more dependent on how much water is released from Lake Powell. Bureau officials did increase this month's releases from 522,000 acre-feet to 910,000 acre-feet, while monthly releases over the next few months will be "adjusted as needed."
It's currently projected to end up at 1,068.05 feet elevation by the end of the year, which is about 33 feet higher than it was in March.
Camille Calimlim Touton, the bureau's commissioner, said this spring's outlook is a step in the right direction; however, she cautions it's not enough to overcome the challenges that arose at the beginning of the megadrought over 20 years ago.
"This winter's snowpack is promising and provides us the opportunity to help replenish Lakes Mead and Powell in the near term, but the reality is that drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have been more than two decades in the making," she said, in a statement last week.
"Despite this year's welcomed snow, the Colorado River system remains at risk from the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis," she added. "We will continue to pursue a collaborative, consensus-based approach to conserve water, increase the efficiency of water use, and protect the system's reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production."
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Reclamation also approved a four-day controlled release from the Glen Canyon Dam as a part of additional water it's sending downstream this month. The department is releasing 39,500 cubic feet per second from Lake Powell for an experiment to move sediment in the Paria River onto the beaches and sandbars in Marble Canyon and the eastern Grand Canyon, according to the National Park Service.
The project, both federal agencies explained, is to "restore" the Colorado River corridor at the east edge of Grand Canyon National Park. The controlled releases will wrap up on Thursday.
Lake Powell's rise should also allow more boat ramps to open at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area this year. Wahweap Stateline Auxiliary and Bullfrog North are currently the only two ramps available for small motorized vehicles, while boaters are advised to approach the dock at Rainbow Bridge National Monument at their own risk. The probable scenario would be enough for the Castle Rock Cut and Antelope Point ramps to reopen.
The recreation area drew in more than 2.8 million visitors in 2022 despite the ongoing water challenges.
Contributing: Matt Johnson