Heavy snowfalls that have fed the Colorado River in recent weeks could slow the decline in water levels in Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border, according to some experts.
Forecasters now expect Lake Mead to be about 1,027 feet high this year, about 19 feet lower than its current level.
However, that’s about 7 feet higher than the year-end 2023 elevation in the bureau’s forecast last month, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
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The newspaper said Lake Powell, the reservoir on the Arizona-Utah border, is expected to end this year at 3,543 feet, or 16 feet higher than last month’s forecast and about 19 feet higher than its current level.
While forecasts have improved with snow cover, projected levels mean Lake Mead will remain under deficient conditions for at least a third straight year.
“I think the bigger picture is that we’re looking at some very long-term deficits along the Colorado River system,” Steph McAfee, the state climatologist and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, told the review journal. “A good year is good news. And I don’t want to belittle that. But it won’t solve the problem.”
The newspaper said the basin was heavily supported by a series of nine atmospheric flows that swept much of the west over a three-week period that began days after Christmas.
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Snow cover numbers across the region are well above average, with some parts of California and Nevada currently near or more than 200 percent of the average for this time of year.
Most of the runoff for the Colorado River will be snow, which melts off the Western Rockies, where snowpack is currently a healthy 146 percent of average, the Review Journal reported.
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According to the latest projections from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, April-July snowmelt runoff is expected to swell the river to 117 percent of its 30-year average as that snow melts and flows downstream to Lake Powell.
That’s a significant increase from the 79 percent average the center forecast for the river last month.
McAfee said the question now is whether this wet trend will continue – something that is very difficult to predict for the upper Colorado River drainage basin.