Lake Powell Drained 50%


Lake Powell reservoir is down 86 feet from normal, equating to a reservoir that is half full. The National Park Service, which manages marina facilities at Lake Powell, is busy trying to make adjustments with the hope that they can still accommodate visitors at some locations. Meanwhile, the recently approved $70 million Antelope Point Marina project is in jeopardy of never being used.

Now in the fourth year of an anticipated sustained drought, Lake Powell reservoir will soon be empty. Forecasters have informed the Park Service that the reservoir levels will only be getting lower. The reservoir is dropping faster than it can be replenished. Even when the snow begins to melt this spring, the reservoir is not expected to rise any higher than where it is right now. By July, the reservoir will again start dropping.

The United States Geological Survey 2002 report on Southwest climate change predicted that the Colorado Plateau would be heading into a 30-year period of below average river flows. Previous estimates by forecasters, on the impacts of such a sustained drought, calculated that Lake Powell would be drained within eight years. It's right on schedule. In July 1999, Lake Powell was at 90 percent. As of February 1, 2003, it was at 50 percent.

If the present drought does not relent, Lake Powell will eventually drain to the level of the penstock tubes that spin the generators at Glen Canyon Dam. According to a model that was published in October of 1995 in the Water Resources Bulletin, if a severe and sustained drought similar to the drought of the late 16th century appears, Lake Powell could stay drained for eight years.

"We're witnessing the end of Lake Powell right now," says Living Rivers' Conservation Director John Weisheit. "This was predicted, and nothing the National Park Service or the marina operators can do will change this."

o At present three of the concrete boat ramps have been closed: Antelope Point, Stateline and Hite Marina. For Stateline, the concrete ends where the wet sand and mud begins; it was officially closed on February 3. For Hite Marina, river sediment closed the concrete ramp and an alternative ramp on gravel began in the autumn of 2002. This alternative ramp too is now closed due to sediment fill from the Colorado River. Antelope Point's ramp was the first ramp to close last year, just three years after construction in 1999.

o A $3 million emergency appropriation was made in January to extend boat ramps at Bullfrog, Hall's Crossing and Wahweap marinas. It is unclear, however, how far these ramps will be extended, or if additional funding will be sought to extend them all the way to the bottom as levels continue to drop.

o Potable water is becoming a problem at Hite Marina. The site draws its drinking water directly from the reservoir, treats it and then stores it in tanks for consumption. But the intake buoy is about to go aground and needs to be extended into deeper water. Besides being expensive to modify the intake, there is no assurance that deep water can be maintained as Lake Powell's delta continues to advance beyond the bay at Hite.

o The planned marina at Antelope Point will find a 500-foot cliff being exposed where the second launch ramp is proposed. Calls to Antelope Point Holdings and their engineers, revealed no comment to the feasibility of the project. According to the National Park Service, construction was supposed to begin in March, but it has now been delayed to at least May.

o The problems at Hite Marina are causing the concessionaire, Aramark, to question whether they should shut their Hite operation down altogether. To preserve the marina may require moving it, a cost Aramark may not wish to incur. No decision has yet been made. With visitation through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area dropping by 10 percent per year, Aramark may be looking to pull out of the other marinas as well.

o The fate of the white-water rafting industry, which concludes trips at the top of Lake Powell, is also a major question. With sediment and mud clogging the marina and boat ramp at Hite, rafters will have a very difficult time getting off the water.

"As the drought persists, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct business as normal with the river and reservoir users. This includes the Grand Canyon river runners who will lose the large Glen Canyon Dam releases they need to run their large motorized boats through the canyon only to arrive at the sediment-choked Lake Mead," adds Weisheit.

Lake Powell is not the only problem. The entire Colorado River storage system has drooped from 92 to 60 percent over the past 40 months. "Lack of access to flat water recreation is the least of our worries," concludes Weisheit. "The Southwest plumbing system is headed for complete catastrophe, and the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven states that use Colorado River water have no disaster preparedness."