Good News For Boaters: Lake Powell Rising Due To Melting Snowpack Upstream

Boat traffic is moving once again through the Castle Rock Cut on Lake Powell. Photo by Friends of Lake Powell.

Recent years haven't been kind to boaters at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with lowering water levels in Lake Powell hampering use of boat ramps and increasing the hazards to navigation. Now, thanks to higher-than-expected runoff from last winter's snows, the lake is rising to levels not seen since November 2012.

The latest official reading put the lake level at an elevation of 3,594 feet, which is an increase of 18 feet since late April. According to a news release from the Friends of Lake Powell, the lake is "is rising a foot per day as abundant snowpack in northern Colorado and Wyoming continues to feed the Colorado and Green Rivers."

"Runoff into Lake Powell that began in earnest in the middle of May has reached 60,000 cfs, leading to a rapid rise in lake level that will continue through the month of June. That is good news for boaters. The rising water has opened the Castle Rock Cut near Wahweap Marina. There is now safe passage for boats of all sizes, including tour boats destined to Rainbow Bridge and Navajo Canyon."

Castle Rock Cut Supporters Breathe a Sign of Relief

The rising water has to be a relief for all boating interests on the lake, but especially for those who made the decision to deepen the Castle Rock Cut, a popular shortcut that allows boaters on Lake Powell to shorten the trip between the major Wahweap Marina and destinations uplake by a distance of 12 miles.

Work earlier this year deepened the cut to an elevation of 3,580 feet, but some observers questioned whether there would be adequate water to justify the cost. With the lake elevation now above 3,594 feet, the Cut is open to all boat traffic. That situation is expected to continue all summer.

Thanks to the higher water level, three concrete launch ramps near Page are all open; the marina ramps at Wahweap, State Line and Antelope Point provide boaters with plenty of parking and lake access.

The Antelope Point public launch ramp, on the southern end of the lake near the town of Page, is an important facility for boaters, and it reopened for use on Friday, June 6th, 2014. A park spokesperson cautioned that "boaters should still be aware that while the ramp is open, launching at these water levels is not safe for all sizes of boats and launching is at your own risk."

Predictions for Remainder of 2014 Are Encouraging

According to predictions by the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls operation of the Glen Canyon Dam, lake elevation will peak near 3,616 feet in early July and end the "water year" on September 30 near 3,610 feet. That is an elevation 26 feet below Lake Powell’s 50-year average for the date.

What's the current best guess for the next year? The "most probable inflow scenario provided by the Bureau projects that Lake Powell could rise an additional 10 feet in 2015 even if water releases downstream to Lake Mead increase to 9 million acre-feet as is being anticipated for water year 2015 beginning on October 1, 2014."

Such projections are complicated, since it's impossible at this point to accurately predict next winter's snowfall—a major factor in future lake levels. Last August, the Bureau's 24-Month Study indicated that lake levels "may continue to drop over the next two years, with the lowest predictions in March 2015 at approximately 3536 feet." The latest forecast is at least more positive.

Visitors headed to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area from the Flagstaff/Phoenix area using Highway 89 need to be aware of a detour, the result of work to repair a landslide in February 2013. That project is expected to last into 2015.

The detour, using highway 89T, runs between Page, Arizona, and a point north of Tuba City, Arizona. You'll find a map and details about the project at this link.

Even with this minor inconveniece for some travelers, the current summer is shaping up to be a big improvement over last year at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Boaters and local businesses who rely on them are already hoping for plenty of snow next winter in western Colorado and southern Wyoming.