“It’s lower now than it was last year, and it just keeps going down,” Magna boater, Dennis Shepherd said.
It’s not a huge surprise. Snow pack numbers are grim for the state of Utah, and only slightly better for Lake Powell’s feeder, the Colorado River. Lake Powell straddles the border of Utah and Arizona, and there are six major marinas on the lake. One of those marinas, Hite marina, is inoperable and has been for several years. Dennis Shepherd was once a regular at Hite Marina and enjoyed the area with his family frequently.
“Hite, yeah, when the water was up, we’d fish at Hite. The fishing was a lot better,” Magna boater, Dennis Shepherd said.
The boat launch at Hite is now surrounded by dust. It serves rafter as a camping area with the Colorado River running through it. The closest place boaters can put in is another 65 miles away at Bullfrog Marina. While the season is not quite at peak, Dennis Shepherd said levels there are still lower than in years past.
“Where we used to fish, there’s islands out there now,” Shepherd said.
Many boaters notice lower water levels through changes in the landscape. Visitors see more beaches, more rocks and what’s been dubbed “the bathtub ring” around the sandstone of the canyon.
“Minerals come through the rock, water borne minerals, come through the rock and they do over time, when the lake is more submerged leave a white ring around the lake,” Carl Ellerd of the National Park Service explained.
The bathtub ring shows when the lake is below capacity, and that’s been the case for at least the last five years. Since 2010, the highest water levels at the lake were in July of 2011 when it was at 76 percent. The National Park Service says the bathtub ring can be misleading.
“It can be taken a lot of different ways but it’s a reminder of us that the water has gone done and the water will go back up,” Carl Ellerd of the National Park Service said.
Lake Powell was built back in 1963, and full capacity is when the lake reaches 3700 feet, and the last time that was recorded was back in 1986. The lowest elevation ever recorded, since filling the reservoir, was in 2005. The National Park service says rangers are used to changing water levels. Last year, they excavated the Castle Rock Cut, a shortcut to the main channel, for a fourth time.
“Not only Castle Rock cut was lowered, we extend launch ramps, we move our facilities further out onto the lake so people can access them. Getting onto the water is very important, and moving up and down the lake is part of our regular process, ” Carl Ellerd of the National Park Service said.
Right now, water levels at Lake Powell are about 110 feet below full capacity. Another visible reminder of lower levels. In years past, water has gone to the top of this cut and all the way to the base of Castle Rock itself, but that means nothing when it comes to the local economy.
“This lake fluctuates so much. The scenery is equally as good high as it is low,” Guy Robertson, Dry Storage Manager at Antelope Point Marina, said.
Many people hear the word “low” and can associate that with negativity. You can look at the water level numbers, notice the bathtub ring, but the people that live and depend in the lake know looks can be deceiving.
“Here at Antelope, there’s a waiting list for everything. To get a slip there is a waiting list, to get into dry storage there is a waiting list. We’re booming,” Guy Robertson, Dry Storage Manager at Antelope Point Marina, said.
Antelope Point is another of the six Lake Powell marinas, and rentals are through the roof. Houseboats are booked and tours are filling through August. Right now, the marina at Antelope Point sits on more than 350 feet of water. Guy Robertson grew up on Lake Powell and says the lake has fluctuated since the year it was built.
“Yeah, the Lake is lower than it was ten years ago. But there’s so much lake out there. There’s still 1800 miles of shoreline. There’s more shoreline than the coast of California. Fifteen years ago I was hired by utah outdoor magazine to map this lake an it took two of us a whole year. The lake is so huge, having the low water is just not that big of a deal,” Guy Robertson, Dry Storage Manager at Antelope Point Marina, said.
Robertson says it’s better to boat on now. With lower level, recreation can revolve around the 96 narrow and beautiful side canyons. Antelope Point has already seen an influx of tourists this year. The Genreal Manager of the marina says tourism doesn’t really slow based on water levels, he says it just enhances the scenery.
“You can go onto Lake Powell every weekend of every year for the past 11 years, and based on the fluctuation of the lake, you would see something different every time you were out there,” Michael Anderson, GM of Antelope Point, said.
Matt Stein runs an air ambulance business in Page, Arizona. This is his twenty third season flying over the lake, and he says he’s planning for a lot of traffic this year.
“This year is going to be quite busy on the lake, maybe a record we’ve seen. Maybe the price of gas being low,the perception that the economy is better than it has been in recent years, I think there are going to be a lot mire middle class folks here on Lake Powell this year,” Matt Stein of Classic Air Medical said.
Stein also says he has seen the bathtub ring for year, and he says people should be used to it by now. In fact, he says the only time you won’t see the ring is when Lake Powell is totally full.
“There will always be a bath tub ring and depending on your view or perspective, it may look a little different from one trip to another,” Stein said.
Bottom line, at the end of the day, to a passer by, Lake Powell may seem low at the surface, but right now there are hundreds of feet of water ready for recreation. Everyone who relies on the lake seems to agree that what goes down, will eventually come up.
“I do believe, overall, it’s mostly nature.We go through cycles, and we just have to be patient and go through the cycle,” Stein said.
“The lake goes up and down, it always will, it was made that way,” Guy Robertson said.
Due to demand, Antelope Point Marina is actually building an addition to the dock. They are adding more boats slips for private and business use. Managers say if you are interested in booking something this summer, you want to do it quickly because there is extremely limited availability.