Final plan for Lake Mead addresses conflicts

The final draft of a lake management plan and environmental impact statement for Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers boaters, environmentalists and personal watercraft users a reason to be happy.

"Alternative C, the preferred plan of the National Park Service, was chosen, but we received 10,000 comments, which we incorporated into our decision-making process," said Roxanne Dey, the Lake Mead National Recreational Area public affairs officer.

"The plan meets the needs of all the varied users of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave."

The plan was released Friday and must be approved by the National Park Service.

It addresses conflicts between boating groups, between boaters and non-boaters, and between non-boating users, and is intended to guide park service management during the next 15 to 20 years.

Different than the original draft, the final plan and environmental impact statement were developed with extensive public input and participation by local and state governments, Dey said.

The final statement establishes that 5 percent of the park be designated primitive or semi-primitive, and personal watercraft be prohibited from these areas, allowing users 95 percent access to the lakes.

The decision for continued use of personal watercraft on the lakes came in the wake of a lawsuit filed against the National Park Service by an environmental group.

The park service and the Bluewater Network reached an agreement Dec.

24 providing for personal watercraft use while the park service completes work on the management plan.

Personal watercraft use will be allowed until April 10.

The decision to exclude personal watercraft from 5 percent of the lake was based on comments received during the public comment period of April 19 through June 26, Dey said.

The original draft designated 2 percent of the lakes be left primitive, she said.

"We received a lot of comments from people who don't want to be around personal watercraft," she added.

"We thought it was responsible that there would be a plan that would allow them to visit and use the lake with no personal watercraft in the area."

Primitive zones would be managed for non-motorized use, but in response to public access concerns, electric trolling motors would be allowed.

Semi-primitive areas would be managed for flat-wake speed in all areas except Black Canyon, where zoning has been modified to allow for increased boater access and a wide variety of recreational opportunities, Dey said.

A popular boating area upstream from Willow Beach, the canyon would be managed as a primitive zone Sunday and Monday year round and zoned semi-primitive Tuesday through Saturday between Labor Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend.

Semi-primitive zoning allows for boats with 65-horsepower engines or less.

In addition, with the final plan, the canyon would be zoned rural-natural during the peak boating season between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend.

This zone allows for unrestricted motor size and includes personal watercraft use.

"We are generally OK with this plan," said Kevin Morgan, habitat manager at the Arizona Game and Fish Region III office in Kingman.

"We really went to bat for sportsmen and (boat) motorists."

In a letter addressed to William Dickinson, Lake Mead National Recreation Area Superintendent, the Arizona Game and Fish Department recognized the need for coordinated management of potential boater conflicts.

"However ...

we believe certain elements of the five proposed recreational zones ...

are inconsistent with our mission and will not meet the needs of current user groups," states the letter signed by Arizona Game and Fish Habitat Branch Chief John Kennedy.

Morgan said the game and fish department supports a multiple-use objective, which the draft did not support.

"We have a vested interest in people who want to fish and use watercraft.

We wanted to make sure they were not unduly impacted," he said.

"We felt that with the draft of this document, anglers would have been affected."

With the final plan and impact statement "everybody has a chance to play," he said.

Dey said another big change in the final statement from the original draft - again based on public comment - is that the proposed 100-foot no-wake zone around the entire shorelines of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave has been revised to include a 200-foot flat-wake-only zone around beaches frequented by bathers, around boats at the shoreline and persons in the water or at the shoreline.

"This is a safety issue," she explained.

"If no one is in the water the 200-foot flat-wake zone does not apply."

Under the final plan: alcohol consumption by the operator of a boat that is under way would be prohibited; all boaters would be required to possess a "marine head" or portable toilet while camping on the shoreline; and glass beverage containers and Styrofoam would be prohibited within the park.

Other issues include recreational and shoreline zoning, developed areas, facilities and recreational services and sanitation and litter.

In addition, beginning Jan.

1, 2013, boats that do not meet the Environmental Protection Agency rule for gasoline spark-ignition marine engines would be prohibited.

The final plan analyzes four alternatives for improving the management of Lakes Mead and Mohave, but it is Alternative C - the plan preferred by the National Park Service - along with other components, that will be adopted through a three-step process.

"The most important step was getting the final EIS out, which we did," Dey said.

"Jan.

10 starts the clock to allow a 30-day no action period, which allows interested parties time to read the document.

The final step is to publish the Final Rule allowing continued PWC (personal watercraft) use on the lakes."

"We anticipate the record of decision and final rule will be in place prior to April 10."

The Lake Mead National Recreation Area manages recreation opportunities along 950 miles of shoreline and close to 200,000 surface acres of water for groups with diverse interests, including kayaks, personal watercraft users, boaters and campers.