Lake Powell Water Release ~ Wow!

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Rankin Realty at Lake Powell, LLC
Once again the world wide media has descended on Page, Arizona, and Glen Canyon Dam to watch and record a spectacular release of water and witness environmental history.

Starting yesterday and running until March 10, 2008, a high flow water release from Glen Canyon Dam is rushing down Glen Canyon and into the Grand Canyon. This test is identical to the one performed in November of 2004.

The idea behind releasing greater than normal quantities of water, quickly, is to stir up the sediment in the Colorado River beyond Glen Canyon Dam, float the sediment in the water for a short period of time, then slowly bring the water levels back down. The sediment will then settle out onto the beaches and in the backwater areas of Marble Canyon and Grand Canyon. The release of extra water is accomplished by opening the four hollow jet tubes, or bypass tubes, at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam. Today the dam was releasing 26,500 cfs (cubic feet per second) and will ramp up to a maximum of 41,500 which will be held for 60 hours before ramping back down. In other words, a release of water four times larger than normal, a volume so high that it would fill a 100-story building in about 10 minutes.

Previous high flow experiments have proven rather successful, and the thought is it will be again in rebuilding sandbars and backwater habitat. Lake Powell is expected to drop about 2.3 feet during the experiment, however the yearly outflow will not be affected.

My plan was to go to the dam this morning and take pictures of the outlet tubes with water gushing out of them, but alas, I was unable to get there. I will stop by tomorrow and shoot a couple of photos to upload here.

Glen Canyon Dam stops the flow of sediment down the Colorado River as no sediment gets through the dam. The sediment from the Colorado is deposited at the high end of Lake Powell, 186 miles north of the dam. Since the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1966 , the Colorado, which had annual flood and drought cycles, is now a steady flowing river . Without the sediments running down river, the beaches, sandbars and backwaters though the remaining 15 miles of Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon have disappeared. These high flows stir up the sediment from tributaries below the dam including the Paria River and the Little Colorado.

The first high flow experiment in 1996 was deemed to be successful but was too long, thus causing erosion. The one in 2004 and the one occurring today, are both shorter in duration. When the flooding is over on March 10th, 100 scientists will descend on the Colorado River to monitor, record and map the changes.

Glen Canyon Dam was finished in 1966 and galvanized the burgeoning environmental movement. I spent seven years as a tour guide at Glen Canyon Dam and many of my future blogs will revolve around its place in the west. For more information Google, Lake Powell Flows and click on News. There were 524 articles as of midnight!

Comments (11)

Terry & Bonnie Westbrook
Westbrook Realty Broker-Owner - Grand Rapids, MI
Westbrook Realty - Grand Rapids Forest Hills MI Re
I agree the dam and all dams change the environment both above and below the dam but right now with the shortage of water in the area is it more important to have the water or correcting the environment?
Mar 05, 2008 09:27 PM
Charlie Ragonesi - Big Canoe, GA
Homes - Big Canoe, Jasper, North Georgia Pros
Interesting post. For us in North Georgia around Atlanta water release and water problems grow. I feel like we are in your area. That is where we traditionally heard about "water wars"
Mar 05, 2008 10:41 PM
Heather Rankin
Rankin Realty at Lake Powell, LLC - Page, AZ
Lake Powell Real Estate

Terry ~ The Colorado Compact of 1922 divided the Colorado River water up between the seven states of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming called the Upper Basin, and the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. In the 1940's an agreement was reached with Mexico as well to insure water travels across the border into their country.

When talking about water we use the term acre feet. One acre foot is 325,851 gallons, an acre of land with one foot of water on it, or roughly enough for a family of four for a year. The compact stated that every year the upper basin states would release to the lower basin states 8.23 million of those acre feet of water. In reality it's done over a ten year average but the idea is the same.

The reason storage in the upper basin is so critcal is that 8.23 maf is way over half the water. Annually the average flow of the Colorado River has been about 12 maf, but with the drought of the last years, it may have brought that down.

The experimental flows do not alter Glen Canyon Dam's release requirement. The half way point of the Colorado River is Lees Ferry, which is 15 miles down stream from the dam and where the water is measured between the upper and lower basin. Monthly release requirements for the dam will be lowered down later in the year to make up the difference. Water year 2008, which ends in October, will not see Lake Powell Elevation any lower than if the flooding had not occurred.

I'll do another post on the runoff forecast for this year, which is looking surprisingly good! 

Mar 06, 2008 01:48 AM
Leslie Prest
Leslie Prest, Prest Realty, Sales and Rentals in Payson, AZ - Payson, AZ
Owner, Assoc. Broker, Prest Realty, Payson,
This made CNN this morning as I was watching. They had some nice video.
Mar 06, 2008 03:59 AM
Mike Varoz
Summit Sothebys International Realty - Park City, UT

Drain the Lake --- remember Edward Abbey!!!!

Mar 06, 2008 07:22 AM
Heather Rankin
Rankin Realty at Lake Powell, LLC - Page, AZ
Lake Powell Real Estate

Charlie ~ that's the one thing we gotta have to live in an area - Water. Looking at places like Phoenix and Las Vegas as natural habitat, they look pretty dang dry without the Colorado as a steady supply of water.

Lesie ~ I missed it this morning but will try and catch something this evening. The media is all over the place.

Mike ~ One of my son's favorite books, however, I don't see "draining the lake" happening anytime soon!

Stay tuned for photos! 


Mar 06, 2008 08:05 AM
Susie Larsen
Susie Larsen Photography - Pocatello, ID
East Idaho Real Estate Photographer

Whew!! Glad it won't affect the lake levels!

Life is much better with Lake Powell! there in June!



Mar 07, 2008 07:07 AM
Gene Wunderlich
1st Action Real Estate - Murrieta, CA
Realtor & Legislative Liaison
Did they say what this does to those lunker trout? Do they all get washed down the river too? That would be a shame.
Mar 07, 2008 12:16 PM
Heather Rankin
Rankin Realty at Lake Powell, LLC - Page, AZ
Lake Powell Real Estate

Gene~  If I remember right the studies indicate it may actually hurt the trout a bit. However, they are tough and plentiful. Since December 2007, trout have been being caught to receive sonic tags in order to learn where the flood transports them and whether they return to where they originated. This statement from Ted Melis, deputy director of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center at USGS in Flagstaff. Stay tuned!

In building habitat another endanger species is making it's mark. Since the first experiment the Lower Colorado River has been proposed as critical habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher - a migratory bird. Last year while I was on top of the dam, several flycatchers were hovering on the canyon walls. Very Cool.

Mar 07, 2008 01:05 PM
Alan Kirkpatrick
Austin Texas Homes - Round Rock, TX
Alan in Austin


This is a very interesting story. We lived in Arizona for about 23 years and I have been to page quite a few times. I would love to see this in person. Thanks for the post

Mar 11, 2008 09:22 AM
Heather Rankin
Rankin Realty at Lake Powell, LLC - Page, AZ
Lake Powell Real Estate
Alan ~ Page is much the same but it does seem like there is growth heading that way too. The building has started off the mesa on the west side, which many thought would never happen. It appears that another road access to the top of the mesa is going in right now. Will be interesting in the coming months and years. 
Mar 11, 2008 11:09 AM