The future of GCNRA, Lake Powell

Photo by Bob Hembree/Lake Powell Chronicle Glen Canyon Recreation Area Superintendent William Shott

Shott: We in the National Park Service are in the forever game.

Glen Canyon Recreation Area Su­perintendent William Shott told the Chronicle, “We’ve got big plans in 2022 and beyond because this is go­ing to be a multiyear crisis for us. The big project that this park wants to do is comprehensive planning.”

“We can’t build a ramp at Bull­frog right now that will get to the levels needed for the lake levels that are projected over the next one, two, three years, said Shott. “So, to build a ramp there is ridiculous. Why build a ramp there when it’s going to be high and dry? And it can’t get any lower. We need to find new loca­tions.”

It’s a challenge finding new lo­cations for ramps, building roads to them, providing the infrastructure needed for buildings, marinas and stores. Water and electricity must be delivered, and wastewater removed.

Shott said, “What I would like to do is look at the park in its totality, and take this opportunity-- with cri­sis, comes opportunity--look at this and say, OK, how can we redesign this? How can we repurpose these locations within Glen Canyon Na­tional Recreation Area so that we don’t have a crisis over the next 20 to 50 years?

“If there’s going to be low water levels for the next 10 years, let’s re­purpose this to make sure that we’re not chasing our tails for the next 20 years.”

If the weather takes a turn and be­gins to fill the reservoir again in the future, the high and dry ramps will be there.

Shot said, “If they had built these asphalt ramps with concrete when they built them, we wouldn’t have this crisis today. We would be launching off those ramps today, no construction projects, no redevelop­ment, no utility problems. All we do is close one ramp because it’s high and dry and open up another ramp.

“They never anticipated that we’d have a hundred twenty-foot-long houseboats. They never anticipated that we’d have all these heavy ves­sels coming in. Most importantly, they never anticipated that the water would be as low as it is now. They thought ‘put something in cheap, quick, so we can start getting on the water. Once it fills up with water, then we’ll have these other ramps that will be in perpetuity.’

“What I want to do is build new ramps to have those water levels. And absolute­ly, if the water comes back up, phenom­enal. We already have ramps for high water. The poor suckers that have to sit around this table in 50 years, when the water does drop down again, are going to go, ‘Man, I’m glad they did what they did,’ because it’s all in place. Communi­ties, like Page, won’t have to worry about access. That’s our goal.”

Shott said he’s focusing on the imme­diate needs based on their 2022 budget.

“We’re going to have to get pretty spe­cific,” said Shott, “So we’re going to pri­oritize this week on where we want to start spending in fiscal year 2022, which starts in October. We’ve already got an earmark in the federal government. Our fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Congress needs to agree on what the budget looks like. We typically don’t have a budget Oct. 1. We operate without a budget on what we call a CR or continuing resolution. What it does is say, ‘we think you’re going to get this much money, so we’ll give you this much to start with.”

The CR is similar to an advance. GC­NRA gets a portion of the year’s budget, then receives the remainder once Con­gress passes it.

Shott said, “What we want to do is make sure that advance includes the mon­ey we need to start these projects in Octo­ber. So, we’re working on that. This week we’re going to prioritize where we put that first bolus of money. It’ll be a tough decision. I’ve got to make sure we get drinking water. There’re probably some other infrastructure needs, like delivering electricity.”

A $3.3 million ramp is under construc­tion in the Wahweap area to adapt to fast-dropping water levels. Shott is also con­cerned with building ramps and infra­structure for people in Garfield and San Juan counties.

Shott, pointing to Antelope Point on the map, then toward the Halls Cross­ing area, asked this reporter, “How would you prioritize a second ramp here versus the first ramp up here?”

I answered, “The area at the most risk,” referring to Wahweap/Antelope Canyon areas. I immediately understood where Shott was leading to and added, “That would be my bias for living here.”

Shott said, “Exactly. So, there’s our challenge. That’s the decision we have to make. I would love to lower the ramp, like the regrade that we talked about over at Antelope Point, because it divides up our users here; it gives that concession­er access. That’s really important to the Navajo Nation.” He continued, “But at the same, I’ve got a bunch of people up in Utah that are going to want to get on this lake as well. I’ve got two big marinas up there that are really dependent upon those. So, we’re going to be looking up there as well. The problem is, where do we go?”

The current ramps up lake are prob­lematic because of their locations and to­pography. Ideally, a launch ramp needs a 10-to-12-degree slope. Shott’s team is currently looking for practical locations to build new ramps.

Shott said, “Just like we studied the ramps down here and the bathymetry, we’re essentially doing the same thing up there right now to see if there’s an op­tion. There may not be an option; I don’t know. That’s what we’re studying right now.”

About people’s perception of Lake Powell stoked by out-of-town news sources, Shott said, “It’s still a 189-mile-long lake. And it’s still hundreds and hun­dreds and hundreds of feet deep. And they are still over 2,000 miles of shore­line. It’s a big lake. It’s a phenomenal place to go. Folks don’t know, and [if] they hear that we’re low, they may not come.”

Shott said, “I tell everyone that will listen ‘it’s a great place to come.’ In many ways, it’s even better right now be­cause it looks different. There are places you can see that haven’t been seen since you could raft the river. And those are all documented. There are some phenome­nal beaches now that are opened up that weren’t open before. You have to be care­ful, but there are some great hikes now too because you can hike in these slot canyons.”

Caution is needed when hiking in the slot canyons. Storms in the region cause flash floods.

Shott said a national news reporter asked him how long he could continue to adapt to changing conditions and if there was a point where he couldn’t do it any­more. Shot answered, “We in the Nation­al Park Service are in the forever game. We’re not managing this public lands unit five years at a time. We will be managing this public lands unit for the public to en­joy forever, and there is no end to how we can adapt.

“If the lake level goes down further, we’ll build more ramps. It might take some time, but we’ll do it. We’ll make sure it’s usable. We’ve already been building new trails. We’ve already imple­mented an off-road vehicle plan to recre­ate on our roads. We have been working on all sorts of different land-based recre­ation. We’re doing a planning effort up in Escalante Canyon, which visitation is up. We’re putting in new plans for the riv­er corridor, and visitation is up 80%. So, we’re always working on that.

“The worst-case scenario that I can think of is if they remove the dam. If they do that, yep, our boat ramps will be use­less. We’ll figure out something to do with them. But you know what? We’ll have more people coming here to raft than they have in the Grand Canyon. It’ll be a different place, but people will still enjoy it. It’s just change. We just have to adapt to it. There’s just no end to how much we can do.”

 

Upcoming stories: Shott discusses the future impacts of dropping water levels, public perceptions, new waterfalls, and lessons learned the hard way.

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