Boatman's Beta: Third Experimental Flow at Glen Canyon Dam
Grand Canyon River Guides
The Department of the Interior is conducting the third experimental flow at Glen Canyon Dam since implementing its Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP). The goal is to provide enhanced habitat for the lifecycle of aquatic insects that are the primary food source for fish in the Colorado River. Experiments under LTEMP consist of four different flow regimes: high flows, bug flows, trout management flows, and low summer flows. Collaborative discussions among technical experts resulted in a decision to begin this first experiment on May 1 and continue through August 31, 2019. It will slightly modify the schedule and flow rates of water releases from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona. The normally scheduled monthly and weekly release volumes will not be affected.
Flows during the experiment will include steady weekend water releases with routine hydropower production flows on weekdays that include normal hourly changes in release rates. Those steady weekend flows are expected to provide favorable conditions for aquatic insects to lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation, and other materials near the river’s edge. Steady weekend flows will be relatively low, within four inches of typical weekday low water levels. It is unlikely casual recreational river users will notice the changes in water levels.
Insects expected to benefit from this experiment are an important food source for many species of fish, birds, and bats in the canyon. Beyond expected resource benefits, this experiment will also provide scientific information that will be used in future decision making.
The unregulated inflow in April was 1.24 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (118 percent of average). April precipitation in the Upper Colorado Basin was 105 percent of average. The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in April was 720 kaf. The end of April elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3,571.12 feet (128.88 feet from full pool) 9.20 maf (38 percent of full capacity).
To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.
To view the 2019 progression of snowpack above Lake Powell, click on Lake Powell Snow Chart.
To view the current inflow forecast relative to past inflows, click on Lake Powell Inflow Forecast.
To view the hourly fluctuations under the Bug Flow Experiment, click on May Bug Flow Experiment Hourly Releases.
The operating tier for water year 2019 was established in August 2018 as the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier. As described in the Interim Guidelines, under balancing, the contents of Lake Powell and Lake Mead are to be balanced by the end of the water year, but not more than 9.0 maf and not less than 8.23 maf is to be released from Lake Powell. Under this Tier the initial annual water year release volume is 8.23 maf, and the April 2019 24-Month Study projects the end of water year elevation at Lake Powell to be above 3,575 feet, and the end of water year elevation at Lake Mead to be below 1,075 feet. Lake Powell operations will shift to balancing releases for the remainder of water year 2019. Lake Powell is currently projected to release 9.0 maf in water year 2019; and this projection will be updated each month throughout the remainder of the water year.
In May, the release volume will be approximately 720 kaf, with fluctuations anticipated between about 10,095 cfs in the nighttime to about 15,077 cfs and consistent with the Glen Canyon Dam, Record of Decision on LTEMP (dated December, 2016). The anticipated release volume for June is 765 kaf with fluctuations anticipated between about 9,490 cfs in the nighttime to about 17,140 cfs.
In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 megawatts (mw) of system regulation. These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,200 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate. Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.
Releases from Glen Canyon Dam can also fluctuate beyond scheduled releases when called upon to respond to unscheduled power outages or power system emergencies. Depending on the severity of the system emergency, the response from Glen Canyon Dam can be significant, within the full range of the operating capacity of the power plant for as long as is necessary to maintain balance in the transmission system. Glen Canyon Dam currently maintains 28 mw (approximately 800 cfs) of generation capacity in reserve in order to respond to a system emergency even when generation rates are already high. System emergencies occur fairly infrequently and typically require small responses from Glen Canyon Dam. However, these responses can have a noticeable impact on the river downstream of Glen Canyon Dam.
Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections
The forecast for water year 2019 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, issued on May 2, 2019, by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume next year will be 12.07 maf (111 percent of average). There is significant uncertainty regarding next season’s snow pack development and resulting runoff into Lake Powell. Reclamation updates its minimum and maximum projections four times a year: January, April, August and October. The April forecast ranges from a minimum probable of 9.68 maf (89 percent of average) to a maximum probable of 15.26 maf (141 percent of average). There is a 10 percent chance that inflows could be higher than the current maximum probable forecast and a 10 percent chance that inflows could be lower than the minimum probable forecast.
Based on the current forecast, the May 24-Month Study projects Lake Powell elevation will end water year 2019 near 3,610.33 feet with approximately 12.76 maf in storage (54 percent of capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage for water year 2019 have significant uncertainty at this point in the season. Projections of end of water year 2019 elevation and storage using the minimum and maximum probable inflow forecast from April 2019 are 3,590.25 feet (10.84 maf, 46 percent of capacity) and 3,632.38 feet (15.12 maf, 65 percent of capacity), respectively. Under these scenarios, there is a 10 percent chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10 percent chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2019 is projected to be 9.0 maf under the May most probable scenario, and 9.0 maf under the maximum and minimum probable inflow scenarios.
Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology
The Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 19-year period 2000 to 2018, however, the unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, which is a good measure of hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin, was above average in only 4 out of the past 19 years. The period 2000-2018 is the lowest 19-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.54 maf, or 79 percent of the 30-year average (1981-2010). (For comparison, the 1981-2010 total water year average is 10.83 maf.) The unregulated inflow during the 2000-2018 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (24 percent of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (147 percent of average) in water year 2011. In water year 2018 unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell was 4.6 maf (43 percent of average), the third driest year on record above 2002 and 1977. Under the current most probable forecast, the total water year 2019 unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected to be 12.07 maf (111 percent of average).
At the beginning of water year 2019, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 28.01 maf (47 percent of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is a decrease of 4.91 maf over the total storage at the beginning of water year 2018 when total system storage was 32.92 maf (55 percent of capacity). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year increases and decreases in response to wet and dry hydrology, ranging from a high of 94 percent of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to the now current level of 47 percent of capacity at the beginning of water year 2019. Based on current inflow forecasts, the current projected end of water year total Colorado Basin reservoir storage for water year 2019 is approximately 30.74 maf (51 percent of total system capacity). The actual end of water year 2019 system storage may vary from this projection, primarily due to uncertainty regarding this season’s runoff and reservoir inflow.