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John Hollenhorst ReportingExperts say Lake Powell bottomed out yesterday, hitting its lowest point in 36 years. But the lake will begin to rise on Saturday with the first rosy runoff scenario since the drought began.
The last time Lake Powell was this low it was brand new. That was in 1969 when the Colorado River was first backing up behind the Glen Canyon Dam. It took 11 more years to completely fill. In the last five years of severe drought, the lake level has plummeted 144 vertical feet. But with spring runoff, the lake's comeback starts this weekend.
Tom Ryan, Lead Hydrologist, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: "For now the worst is over. We're definitely going to rebound in storage in Lake Powell."
By mid-July the lake is expected to go up about 45 feet. Just to give you an idea, that's about up to the 4th or 5th floor of this hotel. But at that point the lake is only half-full. In order to fill up, it would have to go up another hundred feet to maybe the top of the fifteen-story hotel.
Tom Ryan: “At 50 percent of storage there’s still a lot of concerns on the water supply side, on the recreation side, on the power generation side.”
In future years, who knows? Scientific evidence suggests some droughts persisted for decades.
Tom Ryan: “There’s a tendency to celebrate a little too early. One good year does not mean the drought is over.”
Opponents of Lake Powell have launched a publicity campaign aimed at keeping the lake from ever being refilled. They've prompted many national news reports about Glen Canyon scenery emerging from underwater. And they've launched a petition drive to declare Glen Canyon a National Park.
Richard Ingebretsen, Glen Canyon Institute: "It should not be a water storage facility for the Bureau of Reclamation. We can store the water in Lake Mead. And then, if we need to, we can put it in underground aquifers. Glen Canyon should be a national park."
Tom Ryan: “Well, let’s put it this way. If we didn’t have Lake Powell in place before we started this drought, Lake Mead would be virtually empty at this point. So a lot of people would be in a world of hurt.”
After the lake reaches it's high point in July, it's expected to begin dropping somewhat. Experts believe at this time next year, it will be 25 feet higher than it is today.
The snowpack that feeds Lake Powell is primarily in Colorado, Wyoming and Eastern Utah. It's just 107 percent of average. Much heavier snow fell in Southwestern Utah, but that runoff enters the Colorado River below Lake Powell.