Lake Powell drought ended? Don’t trust the warming denialists’ predictions

Every once in a while a factoid crosses the desk and/or mind of an otherwise badly-informed person who denies global warming is a problem, and without bothering to check the significance of the factoid, the denialist world ramps up The Crazy Rant.

And so, Steve Goddard (who should need no introduction) seized upon a chart that shows a momentary uptick in water in drought-ravaged Lake Powell.  Ignoring more than 50 years of history of the river flows, Goddard pronounced the case for global warming dead.

Former AGW poster child Lake Powell water levels have been rising rapidly over the last few years.

Goddard’s claim is a grand example of the triumph of ignorance over experience, science, data, history and the law, in discussions of climate change.

Did Goddard read his own chart?  It shows a decline in lake level from 2010.

Lake Powell levels, charted by Steve Goddard?

Goddard’s own chart shows a decline in Lake Powell’s March 20 level, from 2010; did he look at the chart? Even Goddard’s source says, “Lake Powell is 89.99 feet below Full Pool (Elevation 3,700).”

“Full pool” level is 3,700 feet elevation (the height of the surface of Lake Powell above sea level).  Goddard’s chart shows the lake hasn’t been at that level since 2000 (and it was declining for some time prior to that).  Goddard’s chart shows four years of rise compared to seven years of decline.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation isn’t as optimistic as the warming deniers, noting that drought conditions continue on the Colorado Plateau.

 Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology

In the Upper Colorado River Basin during water year 2010, the overall precipitation accumulated through September 30, 2010 was approximately 90% of average based on the 30 year average for the period from 1971 through 2000.  For Water Year 2011 thus far, the estimated monthly precipitation within the Upper Colorado River Basin (above Lake Powell) as a percentage of average has been: (October – 135%, November – 95%, December – 225%, January – 50%, February – 100%, March – 90%)

The Climate Prediction Center outlook (dated March 17, 2010) for temperature over the next 3 months indicates that temperatures in the Upper Colorado River Basin are expected to be above average while precipitation over the next 3 months is projected to be near average in the northern reaches of the basin while below average in the southern reaches of the basin.

Upper Colorado River Basin Drought

The Upper Colorado River Basin continues to experience a protracted multi-year drought.  Since 1999, inflow to Lake Powell has been below average in every year except water years 2005 and 2008.  In the summer of 1999, Lake Powell was close to full with reservoir storage at 23.5 million acre-feet, or 97 percent of capacity.  During the next 5 years (2000 through 2004) unregulated inflow to Lake Powell was well below average.  This resulted in Lake Powell storage decreasing during this period to 8.0 million acre-feet (33 percent of capacity) which occurred on April 8, 2005.  During 2005, 2008 and 2009, drought conditions eased somewhat with near or above average inflow conditions and net gains in storage to Lake Powell.  2011 will be another above average inflow year so drought conditions are easing somewhat in the Colorado River Basin. As of April 18, 2011 the storage in Lake Powell was approximately 12.73 million acre-feet (52.3 % of capacity) which is below desired levels.  The overall reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin as of April 18, 2011 is approximately 31.40 million acre-feet (52.8 % of capacity).
Updated: April 19, 2011

Rick Clayton

Goddard isn’t the first denier to stumble down this path — but can’t they learn from the stumblings of others?  Remember Australia’s “Jo Nova,” who used a photograph of drought-stricken Glen Canyon Dam and environs to claim that warming was not posing problems?  Remember Anthony Watts claiming Lake Powell as a “good proxy” for water in the entire area, and seizing on a momentary uptick?  (Oh, yeah — Watts based his glee on a Goddard note — even repeating Goddard’s error that Lake Powell’s low levels were due to increased use of water in Los Angeles . . .)

Oy.  Do they ever learn?

More, Resources:

The sources from my earlier post on Lake Powell still edify those who bother to read them:

More current sources:

20 Responses to Lake Powell drought ended? Don’t trust the warming denialists’ predictions

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    2023 update:


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Tony Heller was wrong, but consistent. Years later he’s still wrong.

    Lake Powell did not recover as Heller said it would. Dammit.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    One more time: Goddard/Heller was wrong about global heating and effects in the Mountain West a decade ago, and still is.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Climate science dissenters even more wrong.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Tony Heller/ Steve Goddard is still wrong, nine years later.


  6. In the intervening several years, has it dawned on many hydrology groups that what is needed is a continental program to divert seasonal runoff into constructed wetlands, so we no longer just let water out to the oceans without it topping up all the water needs on the land first?

    W full bore wetlands program would enable water to be purified before it is canaled and water-pipelined to areas where there is a shortage. It would prevent flooding of plains and urban areas with deluges of spring meltwater, and would – if managed according to the vision for 2030 under the 17 SDGs, it could enable afforestation in barren, un-fertile areas, so we could begin to get serious about the GHG surplus, creating erosion of ice sheets. Your thoughts on this concept are welcomed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ed Darrell says:

    “Goddard”/Heller is still wrong. Imagine that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Lake Powell drought ended? Don’t trust the warming denialist’s projections (Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Steve Goddard’s blog — this is the same guy who said the western drought was over because Lake Powell rose a few feet, though the drought raged on everywhere else — Goddard […]

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Steve Goddard’s blog — this is the same guy who said the western drought was over because Lake Powell rose a few feet, though the drought raged on everywhere else — Goddard […]

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ed Darrell says:

    I haven’t found the link James Hanley tried to put in to his post, but I did find this story in the Windsor Star on difficulties of Lake Superior’s having only 88% of average water, in January.

    Here’s the home page of the International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS):
    Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit Station, Great Lakes Water Levels:

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Lake silting is a problem in reservoirs on the Colorado River, but it is not the problem we’re discussing here. In silting and lake eutrophication, the level of the lake often remains the same. At Powell — and at Flaming Gorge and Lake Mead — the lake levels are dropping, by hundreds of feet.

    Generally, even in the reservoirs along the Colorado, there is too much and too rapid streamflow for eutrophication to occur. Generally you need a shallow lake for eutrophication, and these are not shallow lakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Stephen Klaber says:

    WEEDS! SILT! These are the causes of lake decline worldwide. Lake decline is critical in the droughts. Many areas that once had daily “lake effect” rains are now dry. The silt that weeds produce will clog the lake bed and block access to the groundwater. The groundwater dries up, as does the lake. The grasslands and the deserts expand. In Lake Victoria, the problem is water hyacinth. In Lake Chad and Lake Jipe, it is Typha (cattails). They are all biomass, waiting to be biofuel. Some of it is fit for human consumption(there IS a problem). The silt is topsoil, waiting to be used to replace eroded soils or repair desertified soil. Here in the USA, part of our dustbowl is cattail sloughs that ought to be lakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. jd2718 says:

    James, your link’s empty.


  15. jd2718 says:

    I was reading something last week, can’t find it, about a summer renting place going out of business – piers ended over mud, water slides end over dry ground. But I googled and there’s lots, including this:

    there’s also lots saying everything’s ok. But why would they need to say it, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. James Hanley says:

    It’s not a total answer to my comment, but here’s a summary draft report from the International Joint Commission on water level changes in the upper Great Lakes.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. James Hanley says:

    I can’t claim to be an expert, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think scientists who study the Great Lakes have been determining in recent years that there’s a greater variation over time than they once thought. So I’m somewhat skeptical about throwing Lake Superior into that mix about decline (for any reason, not just global warming)–at least yet. If I can, I’ll try to find something more authoritative than my “I think I heard” statement. Or perhaps someone will provide something authoritative to counter my tentative statement here.


  18. Ed Darrell says:

    That’s a good point — lake decline is worldwide. Overuse turned it into the Aral Desert, but the climate change hasn’t helped. Chad, I think, can be largely attributed to climate change; and Superior, definitely.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  19. jd2718 says:

    And Lake Mead. And Lake Chad. And Lake Superior. Superior! Aral Sea. Lakes across China. And the African lake region. Some are due to human use/overuse. But that’s a lot of big lakes getting smaller…



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