Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Lake Powell Water Quality

Creation of a Multiple Agency Cooperative Agreement to Reduce Fecal Contamination in the Waters of Lake Powell In 1996 there were multiple beach closures at the Lake Powell National Recreational Area due to high fecal coliform contamination in waters near swimming beaches. The National Park Service (NPS) was concerned about diminished recreation opportunities and negative economic impacts expected if the number of beach closures continued to increase. As a result, NPS contacted the Utah’s Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to discuss potential mechanisms that could be employed to address fecal contamination of this national resource.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was written between the NPS and DWQ to formalize a cooperative agreement to develop programs to decrease threats to human health resulting from fecal pollutants at Lake Powell. At the time the MOU was drafted little was known about sources of fecal contamination, nor were formal procedures in place to protect public health. As a result, the MOU called for the creation of Lake Powell Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to make recommendations to the NPS on how best to address fecal pollutants in the lake. The TAC consisted of scientist and resource managers from EPA Region 8, Arizona DWQ, Utah DWQ, the Navajo Nation, NPS, and faculty Utah State University. Together the TAC made numerous recommendations to NPS on how best to approach fecal monitoring, assessment of threats to human health, and remediation efforts to reduce the number of beach closures.

NPS subsequently implemented numerous management changes including:

    • Changing the bacteriological indicator from fecal coliform to E. coli.
    • Establishing a more rigorous routine of monitoring at beaches throughout the lake.
    • Establishing a beach closure and re-opening procedures.
    • Declaring Lake Powell a “no discharge waterbody” that prevents the use of marine sanitation devices on the lake.
    • Developing rules that allowed NPS to seal the discharge ports from any marine sanitation device found on the lake.
    • Requiring the use of “porta-potties” on smaller boats and by the public in general throughout the area.
    • Constructing twelve floating discharge stations to receive human waste from houseboat holding tanks.

In addition, procedures for transporting sewage from these stations to the Dangling Rope sewage treatment lagoons for disposal were put in place.

    • Implementing a public outreach program to educate the public about environmental awareness and the need to protect the recreational value of the lake.

The programs implemented from the cooperative efforts of NPA and DWQ have proved remarkably successful. The TAC has become a model for how to get numerous regulatory entities together to address a shared environmental problem. More importantly, the number of beach closures has dramatically decreased though time to the point where no closures have been necessary from 2006-2008. A cooperative effort led by the National Park Service and Utah’s Division of Water Quality has resulted in impressive reductions in high counts of fecal bacteria in the water near Lake Powell Beaches. In 1994, 11 beach closures were necessary to protect human health. After implementation of the environmental programs developed through these cooperative efforts, the number of closures has continued to decline.  No beach closures were needed from 2005-2008.

Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service