PAGE, AZ — The National Park Service is digging a channel to re-open a shortcut for boats that was closed off by the lake's exceptionally low water levels. Over the next few weeks they expect to remove 70,000 cubic yards of rock and dirt from Castle Rock Cut.
"We're helping the environment in that we're saving fuel costs, fuel useage, carbon emissions," said Carl Elleard, project manager at the National Park Service.
We're helping the environment in that we're saving fuel costs, fuel useage, carbon emissions.
–Carl Elleard, project manager at the National Park Service
For only the third time ever, they're digging it deeper.
"Our goal still is to dig deep enough that there will be water along this entire cut," Elleard said. "Boaters will be driving through here."
Most years, the lake level has been high enough to cover this area. The Castle Rock Cut normally is a boat channel leading from Wahweap Marina to the main body of the lake. At least a million recreationists a year get to the lake this way.
But when Lake Powell is too low for the Castle Rock Cut, boaters are forced to go the long way around, following the original channel of the Colorado River above the Glen Canyon Dam. When the Castle Rock Cut is navigable, they save about ten miles each way.
"It's very important," said Henry Dhieux, a boater. "It saves a lot of fuel."
You're going to have this big ugly cut in the mountain, where you're trying to attract a whole new variety of people.
–Dr. Richard Ingebretsen, Glen Canyon Institute
The project is considered crucial this year because spring runoff is projected to be only 47 percent of average and the lake's summer peak will be the lowest in nine years. Some environmentalists oppose the excavation because they believe a changing climate and excess demand for water will eventually drain Lake Powell into a hiker's paradise.
"Very soon the level is going to be so low that it's not going to be plausible to make a cut," said Dr. Richard Ingebretsen of the Glen Canyon Institute. "You're going to have this big ugly cut in the mountain, where you're trying to attract a whole new variety of people."
The project's expected to cost about $500,000, all of that paid with fees contributed by the boaters themselves.