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Know the West

Poor Lake Powell


The snow's melting fast here in Western Colorado's mountains, thanks to a sudden surge in temperatures after a cool spring. A lot of dust on the snow is also contributing: The dust diminishes the snow's reflectivity, meaning more of the sun's heat penetrates the snow, meaning the snow melts quickly.

As a result, the streams and rivers around here are muddy, roiling, raging torrents, just as we like them. They join together and gather force here, and dump into the swollen Colorado River about 50 miles away. Ultimately, all that water ends up in Lake Powell, pushing its spare winter levels up significantly. In the last month, alone, the reservoir has risen six feet, and that trend will continue for a little while. That does not mean the notorious bathtub ring that symbolizes protracted drought will disappear -- not even close.

In March, the Bureau of Reclamation forecast a high lake level for this year at 3,642 feet, which is about nine feet higher than last year (which was celebrated by Lake Powell lovers since it was the highest the lake's been since 2002, but still 60 feet below its 1998 level). But given the snowpack levels above Lake Powell for this year, and their precipitous drop in recent weeks, such projections may be dashed. After all, there was a lot more snow at this time last year. Indeed, some don't expect Powell to get above 3,630 feet, and the NOAA's most recent water supply outlook calls for slightly above average flows going into the reservoir this month, but below average flows after that. 

So, the bathtub ring remains, as does the aridity it symbolizes.