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Rivers drying up in the West

Published on 3/2/2014

As drought conditions continue across the West, river flows are way down, and likely dropping to un-runable levels by the Spring. I kayaked the Verde River in Arizona in mid-February, and we made it down through the wilderness section with minimal flow of 220 cubic feet per second (cfs). Now I hear that the river level continues to drop and boating is no longer possible.  


I scouted the Owyhee River (Idaho) on the way home and found the same thing. The Owyhee normally peaks in mid-May with several thousand cfs, but this year the river peaked in mid-February with about three thousand cfs, and within a week had dropped to a few hundred cfs. There will be no boating season for the third year in a row.


An article in High Country News quotes climate experts saying, “The drought that grips the Southwest now is the worst in 1,250 years, and shows no sign of releasing its grip.” The last drought alluded to here is the one that lasted more than 50 years and drove the Anasazi Indians out of the Colorado plateau and Grand Canyon.


Lake Powel in Arizona, which is the reservoir above Grand Canyon, is at only 40 percent of capacity and down 121 feet from full pool height. Hite Marina, at the upper end of the lake, is now miles from water and the Colorado River again flows through Glen Canyon, allowing floating the canyon by river. Water releases for the Grand Canyon for the next few months will be about six thousand cfs at night and 11 thousand cfs during the daytime.


Here in the Northwest, we’re lucky to have just received a good snowpack in the mountains, and hope it doesn’t succumb to any long stretches of warm sunny weather and melt away before summer. Boaters from other western states may be visiting us this Spring to enjoy rivers that are still flowing strong.

Hite Marina, Az


~ Mike Grijalva

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