LAKE POWELL — The water is rising at Lake Powell about a foot a day and by mid-August it is expected to reach an elevation of 3,665 feet — a level not seen since 2001.
As of Wednesday, the measurements of flows from rivers that feed into Lake Powell show them at nearly 257 percent of average and half the snowpack is left to melt, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Adding 28 feet of water over the past two months means new places to explore and additional areas to dock houseboats.
"The higher water levels are opening hundreds of Lake Powell's back canyons to boats, giving visitors access to areas that have not been accessible for 10 years," said David Sloma, vice president of operations for Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas.
Overall, the 2011 water year has bumped storage at Lake Powell by nearly 2.2 million acre feet of water and rivers that feed into it are still running high. Measurements at the San Rafael River near Green River, for example, show it flowing at 1,430 cubic feet per second, when the average on July 6 typically is 194 cubic feet per second. That drastic difference puts it at a little more than 742 percent of average.
The extraordinary volumes promise to turn the Lake Powell area into a water wonderland this year for boaters and other explorers who for years have experienced expanding and parched shorelines created by receding water levels.
Lake Powell's gains come at a time, too, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has completed revisions to a draft environmental assessment on what standards would have to be in play to trigger high flow releases from Glen Canyon Dam, which impounds a long stretch of the Colorado River.
Those releases, which would be between 2011 and 2020, would be during sediment-rich conditions and designed to better determine whether or how sand conservation can be improved in the Colorado River corridor within Grand Canyon National Park.
A summary of the proposal by the federal agency says the redepositing of sand downstream helps to build better sandbars and beaches and can be a boost to key wildlife habitat.
The analysis examines possible impacts to recreation, area Native American Indian tribes, endangered fish, non-native fish, cultural resources and air quality as well as water quality.
The high flow experiments, according to the bureau, would have minor short-term impacts on the water quality of Lake Powell and the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. In addition to a slight reduction in downstream temperature, there would be a slight increase in salinity levels, as well as minor increases in the murkiness of the water.
Motivation behind the creation of standards or protocols that should be in place before the high flow experiments are conducted is based on a desire to build on lessons learned in previous experiments done in 1996, 2004 and 2008.
The draft assessment was prepared in line with required environmental regulations, with comments being accepted through July 19.
Written comments may be provided to the agency at the Bureau of Reclamation Upper Colorado Regional Office, 125 S. State, Room 7218, Salt Lake City, Utah 84138. They may also be submitted via email to email@example.com.
For more information, or to request a printed or CD-ROM copy of the assessment, call Dennis Kubly at 801-524-3715.