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Colorado River-Storage and Dams

Storage and Dams​

The Upper Colorado River Storage Project

In 1956, the Colorado River Storage Project authorized four dams on the Upper Colorado and its tributaries. These dams store up to 34 million acre-feet of water for use by the Upper Colorado Basin through a series of reservoirs created by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Utah/Arizona Border, Flaming Gorge in on the Green River in Utah, Navajo on the San Juan River in New Mexico, and the Wayne N. Aspinall Storage Unit on the Gunnison River in Colorado. During periods of low river flow, water from these reservoirs is released to Lees Ferry to meet its water obligation to the Lower Colorado Basin.

Glen Canyon Dam, located 15 miles upstream from Lees Ferry near Page, Arizona, stores more water than the other three reservoirs combined. The 710-foot-high dam flooded Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell, now the second largest artificial lake in the country.

Storage Dams on the Lower Colorado

Hoover Dam sits in the Black Canyon, found in the northwest corner of Arizona on the Nevada border. Once known as Boulder Dam, it was constructed during the Franklin Roosevelt administration between 1931–1936 to form Lake Mead, a reservoir with the capacity to store the entire average flow of the Colorado River for two years. The dam remains to this day a source of hydroelectric power for Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, with a generation capacity of 4 billion kilowatt hours every year. However, generation has decreased as lake levels have dropped.

Davis Dam, forming Lake Mohave, was built to regulate water to Mexico as a result of the Mexican Treaty of 1944. The zoned earthfill structure has the capacity to generate up to 240 megawatts of power.

Parker Dam is commonly called “the deepest dam in the world.” Almost three-quarters of the dam’s 320-foot height is below the riverbed, leaving only about 85 feet of the concrete arch structure that forms Lake Havasu visible. It was constructed in 1938 to be a source for low cost hydroelectric power. About two miles upstream from the dam is the Metropolitan Water District`s W. P. Whitsett Intake Pumping Plant for the Colorado River Aqueduct that ends near Riverside, California. Lake Havasu is also the starting point for the Central Arizona Project, commencing at the Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant near Lake Havasu City.

Diversion Dams

A series of diversion dams along the Lower Colorado provide irrigation water to agricultural areas in Mexico, Arizona, and California. Two of particular importance are Morelos Dam, near the U.S-Mexico border, which diverts water to Mexico's Mexicali Valley; and the Imperial Dam and Desilting Works, which controls the flow of water into the All American and Gila Gravity Main Canals. Learn more about these important structures and their uses from the Bureau of Reclamation.

 Information from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.