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Modeling the influence of water levels on recreational use at lakes Mead and Powell

Neher, Chris J., Duffield, John W., Patterson, David A.
Lake and reservoir management 2013 v.29 no.4 pp. 233-246
National Park Service, data collection, economic impact, lakes, models, recreation, restaurants, surface water level, surveys, water reservoirs, watersheds, Arizona, Colorado River, Lake Mead
The Colorado River is one of the most highly developed watersheds in the United States and has relatively unique long-term datasets for both recreational visitation and water levels from Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the 2 largest reservoirs in the United States. Previous efforts to model the relationship of recreation and reservoir water levels have primarily relied on survey-based estimates of visitor response to past actual or future hypothetical water levels. We provide the first major reservoir-recreation study based entirely on long-term observed data that also include observed economic impacts. Models of volume and visitation had significant estimated parameters for lake volume explanatory variables, with an R ² of 0.97 for the Lake Powell model and 0.71 for Lake Mead. These models predicted that 100,000 additional acre-feet of water over a year are associated with 5280 additional recreational visits to Lake Powell and 13,490 visits to Lake Mead. A second model of Lake Powell volume and local area tourist spending also had a highly significant volume parameter, with an R ² of 0.91. This model predicted that a 100,000 acre-foot increase in Lake Powell volume over a year is associated with $374,000 in additional visitor spending in tourism-related sectors in Coconino County, Arizona. The Lake Powell volume-visitation and volume-spending models imply the average visitor to Lake Powell spends $71 in lodging, restaurant and bar, and amusement/recreation sectors in Coconino County. This estimate is generally consistent with independent estimates of visitor spending derived from prior National Park Service visitor surveys.