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Lake Powell water levels on the rise, fast

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - May 5, 2011 at 7:14 p.m.


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SOUTHERN UTAH -- For years, we've watched the water levels at Utah's favorite recreation lake go up, and mostly down. But this year looks like a banner year for Lake Powell.

Lake Powell is jumping, and it's good news for boaters. But in some places, high water is a big concern and flooding is inevitable.

But boaters will be delighted. Lake Powell will keep on rising, even while huge volumes are gushing out the lower end.

Forecasters had been expecting a good year at Lake Powell from all the snowmelt heading down the Colorado River. But the latest forecast jumped two million acre feet -- enough water to fill an acre, two million feet deep! And that's just the increase over last month's forecast.

"I was surprised that it went that high," said Richard Clayton, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "I was aware of the snowpack conditions. but I was very surprised that they jumped it up that fast."

In the coming weeks Lake Powell will rise a few inches a day, then nearly a foot a day heading into summer.

"It will increase maybe 15 feet in the next month, but then it's really going to take off in June," Clayton said.

When the last snow melts, Lake Powell will have risen 50 feet for the year, ending up nearly 25 feet higher than last year.

"Twenty-five feet of additional water will have a big impact on recreation," Clayton said.

Lake Powell would have easily filled this year, but instead it will come up 20 to 30 feet short. That's because the Glen Canyon Dam will be letting out a huge volume.

Under a recent agreement between states, Lake Powell is required to share the wealth with Lake Mead further downriver.

"We have to follow the guidelines, which is considered a fair distribution between the upper and lower basins," Clayton said. "In a year like this, it calls for large releases."

The Glen Canyon Dam will likely continue high-flow releases to Lake Mead for several months, possibly even into the fall.

Email: Hollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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