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Lake Powell is expected to be at 37% capacity this year. What that could mean for Page

The news on water levels at Lake Powell is getting better; officials expect the reservoir to be at 37% of capacity this year. That’d be in line with last year, but about ten percent higher than 2022. And that’s good news for the nearby city of Page.

With The Show to talk about what this could mean for the city as the summer travel season gets underway is Gregg Martinez, Page’s economic development director.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: Greg, what kind of summer are you expecting? Given that the news around Lake Powell seems better than it has been?

GREGG MARTINEZ: Yeah, that's definitely an understatement. We certainly have had a couple of years of "Lake Powell is dry," "Lake Powell has no water," and so right now, without that negative publicity, I expect that we're going to have a really good boating season. Lake Powell is going to be filled with a lot of happy house boaters, jet skiers, wakeboarders, tubers, because that's myself, I'm a tuber, and everything in between from kayaking to paddle boarding. But, you know, if you can believe it, last year, we had a record-breaking year at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which houses Lake Powell. 

BRODIE: How important to Page's economy is activity on Lake Powell?

MARTINEZ: I would say it's very important. That is the backbone of our tourism. Lake Powell was initially why people came before the Antelope Slot Canyons got discovered, before Horseshoe Bend got discovered, before tours became very popular on Colorado River, Lake Powell was the foundation of our tourism. 

BRODIE: So, you mentioned that last year was a pretty good year. So, I'm wondering if it's more the perception of what's happening on Lake Powell versus the reality that affects whether or not people come and and do things on the on the water. 

MARTINEZ: Being an Arizonan for the last 20 years, I know that we're all trying to find bodies of water to get cool, and what we saw a huge pivot from Lake Powell was into the Colorado River, where a place like Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry had a record breaking year. 

BRODIE: So you mentioned earlier that, you know, there are a lot of negative headlines and everything did that hurt tourism? Did you get field a lot of calls from people saying, "I don't know if I should be coming?"

MARTINEZ: I think the people that were determined to come to Page were coming for other reasons. We really host a lot of amazing hikes, land-based tours, Antelope Slot Canyon, the Horseshoe Bend. So, there's a lot of reason to come to Page if you're not a water person. But I do know that the boating industry in a whole, that tourism did suffer because there were a lot of cancellations, or people who are making their plans back in January or February for a summer vacation, they just thought "hey, there's no accessibility for Lake Powell. We're gonna go to a different lake in the southwest," and so it did it did hurt our industry. 

BRODIE: Have you found that that boating tour operators or other people who recreate on Lake Powell have changed what they do or the way they do it based on on changing water levels?

MARTINEZ: No, not really, I would say that there are a lot more places to explore up lake. So, I think we're seeing less impact inside of our bays like Wahweap Bay or the Navajo Canyon area. So, we're seeing a lot less impact because I think people are going up further north in the lake to visit some places that otherwise would have been underwater. So maybe a little bit more adventurous in the boat or boating than maybe the recreation part of it. 

BRODIE: So we talked about how big of a part of the tourism economy Lake Powell is. I'm curious how big the tourism economy is for Page.

MARTINEZ: I only laugh because that is our economy. When Navajo Generating Station closed and decommissioned in 2019, and the Peabody Coal Mine went away subsequently, because of the power plant coming to an end, we had to rely on tourism and in 2019 - oh, the good old days of 2019 - we were thinking ourselves, "man, we're gonna have some robust tourism years," and then the global pandemic happened. And so I think those two factors really showed us just how important tourism is to our economy, and we really, as a community, as a local municipal government, as a tourism department, have leaned into it. And we've seen some really nice returns, and those returns are put back into our quality of life for our community members. 

BRODIE: Is it concerning at all, though, that even though you know, Lake Powell is doing better this year than it has in the past few years, you know, the model suggests that it's only going to get hotter and drier, which is probably not great news in the long run for Lake Powell, given how big a part that is of the tourism economy in Page and, as you just said, how big tourism is for the city overall. Like is it concerning that you seem to be relying on something that may not, may not have great staying power

MARTINEZ: Absolutely, I would, I would definitely say that tourism in itself as an economy, it can be very fickle. It can be, you know, some people got their fill of the Southwest or they got their fill of a lake or a water activity, so now they want to go to Disneyland, or they want to go to a major metropolitan area to have a urban experience. So yeah, of course, it's always a level of concern when it comes to putting all your eggs in one basket. But if one thing taught us from the pandemic in 2020, when people are faced with life or death decisions, they still want to recreate and they still want to come to Page to experience a tourism activity. If the lake goes away, which none of us think that's going to happen, whether we're thinking with our heart or with our head, we know that maybe that lake turns in back to a river, and instead of having world-class houseboating on Lake Powell, we have world-class whitewater rafting down Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

BRODIE: So what kind of summer are you expecting then? I mean, you mentioned that last year was a really good year for Page, especially on Lake Powell. What are you looking for this summer? 

MARTINEZ: So, last year was a really good summer for Page and the Colorado River, which is adjacent to Page. We had 5.2 million visitors come through the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is a large area and maybe we didn't capture all of that visitor, all of those visitors. But I think we're going to break the 5.2 million mark for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area this year and set a new record. 

BRODIE: Alright, that is Gregg Martinez, the economic development director for the city of Page. Greg, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. 

MARTINEZ: I appreciate you guys and stay cool in the Valley.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.