New Colorado River pact may mean more water in Powell
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For Utah, the most direct effect of a new Colorado River agreement between the United States and Mexico may be a rise in the water level at Lake Powell.

"The direct benefits will be more in the lower basin, but it will back water up to Lake Powell because of the coordinated reservoirs operating criteria," said Robert King, interstate streams section chief for the Utah Division of Water Resources.

He said releases out of Lake Powell are coordinated with Lake Mead. If Lake Mead stores water for Mexico, as provided by the agreement signed Tuesday by the two countries, that will leave more water in Lake Powell.

Should Mexico, over time, store the maximum 1.5 million acre feet allowed under the new pact, that could roughly translate into a maximum 7- or 7½-foot rise in the water level at Powell, or about 750,000 acre feet, King said.

Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program director for The Nature Conservancy, said environmentalists in Utah and everywhere should be pleased with the new compact.

For one thing, she said, it provides for more water to flow to the Colorado River Delta's ecosystem in Mexico, which has seen little if any water for many years. "It's been 1998 since the river has reached the sea," she said.

Under the agreement, the environmental community and the U.S. and Mexican governments are each contributing 5,000 acre feet of water per year to send to the delta. That 15,000 acre feet will rewater 60 miles of the Colorado River and allow it to reconnect with the Rio Hardy, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Hawes said.

wogata@sltrib.com