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Federal Water Tap, September 27: New Projections Show High Risks for Colorado River Reservoirs

The Rundown

  • The Bureau of Reclamation releases five-year projections for lakes Mead and Powell.
  • The EPA Administrator discusses farm issues with state agricultural regulators.
  • The GAO says Congress should work on a permanent fix for the nation’s spent commercial nuclear fuel.

And lastly, foreign affairs agencies will update their global water strategy.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling.” – Wayne Pullan, regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation Upper Colorado Basin. The Bureau released new projections that showed a one-in-three chance that Lake Powell, absent interventions, will be low enough in 2023 that it will not be able to generate hydropower.

By the Numbers

86,000 Metric Tons: Amount of used nuclear fuel from U.S. commercial power reactors. The waste is stored at 75 nuclear power sites in the country. The Government Accountability Office says that Congress needs to come up with a permanent solution, since the Yucca Mountain storage site has been taken off the table.

News Briefs

EPA and Agriculture
EPA Administrator Michael Regan told state agricultural regulators that the agency will soon appoint an agriculture adviser, Capital Press reports. The appointment could happen next month.

Regan also said that the EPA will propose a draft regulation in November that would define the waterbodies that are regulated by the Clean Water Act. This will be the third consecutive presidential administration to write a definition.

Studies and Reports

Quantifying Colorado River Risks
The Bureau of Reclamation updated its mid-term (five-year) projections for lakes Mead and Powell. The risks are building.

There is a 44 percent chance by 2024 and a 66 percent chance by 2025 that Mead falls below elevation 1,025 feet. Beyond that level, lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada will discuss additional emergency options.

The modeling also found a 34 percent chance by 2023 that Powell is too low to generate hydropower.

Those results for Mead and Powell were derived from the “stress test” hydrology: basically constraining future outcomes to the conditions that were experienced from 1988 to 2019.

Some scholars argue that the stress test is not stressful enough for depicting a worst-case scenario of several extremely dry years, like those that occurred in 2000 to 2004.

In context: Colorado River Forecasts Not a ‘Crystal Ball’

On the Radar

Global Water Strategy Update
The Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development will host a public virtual meeting to gather input for updating their global water strategy.

The strategy deals with the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation, improved governance, and reducing conflict.

The meeting is scheduled for November 17 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Written comments are being accepted through October 29. Send them to waterteam@usaid.gov with the subject line Comments: U.S. Global Water Strategy.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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