Climate change is taking it on the chin in the Rockies this winter. So much snow has fallen in the Intermountain West that when it melts it's expected to raise the level of Lake Powell by some 50 feet, to the highest point it's been since 2002. As a result, if you haven't already explored the previously submerged back canyons of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, your time is running out.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin is currently at 124 percent of average. As this snow melts, it will flow into the Colorado River and eventually into Lake Powell. What's interesting about this forecast is that NRA officials are not lamenting the soon-to-be-submerged landscape, but rather saying how the higher reservoir level will benefit boaters.
“With the runoff anticipated into Lake Powell this spring, it’s going to be a great summer at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We are expecting a busy season with the likely opening of the Castle Rock Cut,” said Superintendent Stan Austin.
The spring runoff is expected to reopen the Castle Rock Cut early this June. The Castle Rock Cut is a popular route on Lake Powell that allows boaters to conveniently travel between the Wahweap Marina and other destinations uplake. Traveling through the Castle Rock Cut saves about 12-miles to popular areas such as Rainbow Bridge, Padre Bay, and Warm Creek Bay. Due to long-term drought conditions, however, the Castle Rock Cut has not been usable since 2003.
With the promising spring runoff forecast, the National Park Service will not need to proceed with plans to deepen the Castle Rock Cut this spring. The Bureau of Reclamation’s projections for Lake Powell indicate that the Castle Rock Cut is expected to remain passable for boats into 2010. This will also save Glen Canyon NRA $1.5 million, which can be directed toward other park needs.
“Lake Powell should quickly start rising in April and May and it will be nearly impossible for us to deepen the cut this spring,” said Superintendent Austin.
The Park Service released an environmental assessment for public review in February 2008 that examined deepening the Castle Rock Cut so it would be passable for boats at lower water levels. The environmental assessment process will continue, even though the Castle Rock Cut will likely become passable to boats this summer.
Currently, public comments are being reviewed and analyzed. A formal decision about whether to proceed with the deepening project is expected to be made later this year, and the Cut could be deepened in the future if lake levels drop again.