Lake Powell Water Quality
Water quality is a very important issue at Lake Powell. We all need to be a part of the solution if we are to keep Lake Powell clean for all to use. Since 1988, the National Park Service has monitored Lake Powell for fecal coliform bacteria (FC). FC bacteria is found in the digestive tracts of warm-blooded animals like dogs, cows, and humans. But when FC are detected in the lake, it indicates that feces is present, and that pathogens contained in feces might also be present.
Every two weeks biologists take water samples at approximately 50 beach and marina locations. When a sample exceeds 200 FC "colonies" per 100 milliliters of water, the site is resampled. When counts are high for two consecutive samplings, the site is recommended for closure to swimming. Signs and yellow buoys mark the closed areas. Once an area is closed, water samples are taken every day until the FC counts return to and remain at safe levels.
Not surprisingly, highest FC levels are often seen in places containing shallow, warm, still waters and many campers. We are happy to say that in the first year of this extensive water quality program, there were no beach closures due to contamination.
Why Act Now?
In the past certain areas of the lake have had to be periodically closed to swimming because of bacterial contamination. Because desert soils lack sufficient bacteria, fungi, and moisture, buried organic materials decompose very slowly. Human and pet waste left on the beaches, as well as wastes dumped directly in the water, cause pollution and can cause closures. From a 1994 survey of Lake Powell visitors, the National Park Service learned that 96% of Lake Powell visitors spend the night either on board a boat or in a shoreline camp. 75% stay 3-7 days, with the average boating group consisting of 10 people. 29% of groups include pets. Sadly, 32% of groups do not carry marine sanitation devices for the proper disposal of human waste, and human and pet waste is often left behind on Lake Powell beaches. These statistics will improve with compliance of the new regulations.
What Can I Do?
Leaving anything, including human and pet wastes, on the shores or in the waters of Lake Powell is unacceptable. Solid waste, not urine, is the problem. What you leave behind in or on the beaches of Lake Powell will be in the lake as the water rises seasonally. Please follow these guidelines to help keep Lake Powell clean and pure for all of us:
- If you have a boat with a marine sanitation device on board, use it—and make sure everyone else in the group uses it too. If you don't have on-board toilet facilities, carry and use portable toilets. Most of us who camp on Lake Powell shores seek and enjoy quiet, isolated, clean beaches. Rarely are these beaches equipped with restroom facilities. Therefore it is imperative that people camping in the recreation area begin carrying portable toilets. Several commercial portable toilets are available from a variety of sources. Most of these use a chemical treatment to control odor.
- Because plastic bags clog and incapacitate portable toilet dump stations, homemade devices such as plastic bag-lined buckets or ammo cans are not acceptable alternatives. Also, plastic bags contaminated with human wastes cannot legally be disposed of in dumpsters. Whatever solution you choose, we ask that you NOT use plastic bags.
- NOTE: Anyone camping in the recreation area within 1/4 mile of Lake Powell is required to carry and use a portable toilet unless their boats or campers are self-contained or toilets are available on the beach.
- Dispose of holding tank and portable toilet wastes properly: at boat pumpout and dump stations located at all marinas. Dumping ANYTHING—including solid human or pet waste—on the shores or in the waters of Lake Powell is illegal and unsanitary!
- Do not put any garbage in the lake or bury it on shore. This includes cigarette butts, apple cores or other food remains, and coals from charcoal or wood fires. Bag it in, boat it out.
- Report illegal dumping to the National Park Service in person or by calling 1-800-582-4351.