- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

PAGE, Ariz. — Rising water from melting snowpacks are replenishing drought-stricken Lake Powell, catching many of the nearly 2 million yearly visitors to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area off guard.

One day-tripper left his car parked too close to the shore line and was surprised upon returning to find his vehicle in the lake.

“The water came up quickly, and the car had to be towed out,” said Al Nash, National Park Service spokesman.

Water levels rose 18 inches on one May day and completely changed shore lines by several feet, Mr. Nash said.

“Eighteen inches in a day is really rapid, it’s not something you would normally experience in a small time frame,” Mr. Nash said. “People think it’s only 18 inches, but it translates a lot larger onto a sloping shore line.”

A five-year drought that dramatically depleted water levels at the lake, revealing rock formations not seen in four decades, has begun to ease this spring with more than a foot of new water a day.

But it is not enough water to fill the desert dam to capacity. The depth of water at the dam when the lake is full is 560 feet — significantly more than the 400 feet measured last week.

“For two months, the water can really flow heavily,” said Paul Ostapuk, board member of Friends of Lake Powell. “It’s either boom or bust, depending on the snowpack.”

The five-year drought has exposed nearly 150 feet of the Glen Canyon, which was flooded with Colorado River water in 1963 after a dam was constructed to hold 26 million acre-feet of water over a surface area of 266 miles.

Stark white canyon walls tower above the crystal blue waters and serve as a water mark to the desert red canyon cliffs.

The drought also has revealed dozens of boat wrecks, made peninsulas out of islands and provided tourists new hiking trails on once water-covered land along its 2,000 miles of shoreline.

The National Park Service also has taken advantage of the low water levels to remove the partially submerged shipwrecks and as many submerged boats as can be reached before the water rises to an expected 445 feet by summer.

At least one single-engine Cessna has also been recovered from the second largest man-made lake in the U.S.

The salvage operation is funded by a foundation created by Envirocare of Utah, a radioactive-waste disposal facility.

“We’re very lucky that the foundation can remove some of those sunken vessels for us, and say they may be able to remove 40 to 100 down vessels over the next couple of months,” Mr. Nash said.

The Glen Canyon Dam was constructed to control savage floods on the Colorado River and to provide a water reservoir for Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California and Mexico.

The creation of the dam and reservoir proved contentious and gave birth to the modern day environmental movement of “monkey-wrenching” — breaking the law to sabotage timber, mining and other natural resource industries. Radical environmental groups periodically call for the dam to be blown away with dynamite.


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