This diary continues and concludes the series. (Previous diaries were posted here, here and here.)
For many years, the Glen Canyon-Lake Powell issue––and more the semblance of a wrangle and diatribe seeming without end––comes down to an Either/Or decision. The eventual outcome will be a face off for those in favor of the revamped canyon-to-basin affair and those opposed. But this Either/Or dichotomy is not intended in, say, the sense of Søren Kierkegaard’s leap of faith concept, yet in a way faith does play a role in the matter. Ergo: either having faith the dam and lake will remain status quo or that big bottleneck of cement cubes comes down, the basin drained, and the Glen Canyon lady rises from the bathtub and gets back her dry and original countenance.
Then again, in light of what all the previous diaries have already noted, Mother Nature is heavily weighing in on the matter and appears to be making her own timely decision in a number of ways:
- Lake Powell’s consistent and persistent bout with constipation (silt aggradation).
- Natural and human-caused peril in the water (fecal coliform––E. coli, norovirus equated to gastrointestinal illnesses for swimmers in the water, environmental contaminants, notably uranium, selenium and mercury, and organic compounds such as pesticides).
- The porous nature of sandstone that leeches precious water and the sun’s rays (transevaporation) sopping up millions of acre feet of water.
- A prolonged and worrisome drought that climatologists figure is a progressive cycle, whose phenomenon is likely related to the ultra phenomenon, global warming.
Without doubt these four tag-team boogeymen spoiling Lake Powell’s, otherwise advertised hype and splendor, denotes the bad news too many people don’t see or realize, that is, considering the admiration they have for the striking sheen and beauty of the lake contrasted with the upper profile of Glen Canyon’s brownish facade. Indeed, most of the postings I have received from Daily Kos commentators admit to having no prior knowledge of the other telling side of the story. Perhaps, too, this matter is too insular and tends to be localized news only here in the Southwest. I also point out how sometimes it really is the case negative news doesn’t always sell the press. In short, Lake Powell’s PR is generally seen as undeviating and propitious (almost Pollyannaish) given how the aforementioned boogeymen quirks will all be defeated. . .given time.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking and feeling positive, well, except for the fact the Norman Vincent Peale approach to positive thinking entails a polarity how negative drawbacks is also part of the process. That being said, and if one chooses to deny the four major drawbacks just mentioned, there's still another nag to add to the list: an askew downstream ecology due to the cold, dam released water. Not only has this downstream neighbor canyon's riparian habitat been changed (read “downgraded”), but pre-dam amounts averaged some 400,000 tons of daily sediment and was seriously reduced to about 40,000 to 45,000 tons. By some estimates, even these figures are conservative. Still, Lake Powell can be construed as a hog for hoarding so much of what should be going downstream and measured in mega tons. To solve the problem also entails a firm preposition meant to settle the proverbial hash between the two opposing sides in this matter or else face the sobering reality how Glen Canyon must be set free of her cement shackles and the heavy weight of water removed (as in drained).
So sets the tone and purpose of this diary. The main focal point addresses previously mentioned solution, while also clarifying ambitious (or desperate) ideas proposed to the overlords of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA), namely the National Park Service (NPS) administrators.
In a way, this universal distress call that historically refers to Save Our Ship also suffices for what’s happening here at Lake Powell. Change one noun (ship) for another, in this case, subsistence, and the distress call does indeed apply. Thus the subsistence the tourism industry counts on may some day terminate most enterprises depending on tourists feeding the coffers of these producers (i.e., hotels, restaurants, shops, boat rentals, and many others). Now imagine the entire layout of Page floating on the surface of Lake Powell, but at an askew angle in the sense of imminent sinking. Bow up or stern down, doesn't matter. Its foundation is slowly and surely sinking given this simile. Someone in the metropolis is also rapidly tapping out dit-dit-dit dah-dah-dah dit-dit-dit (denoting the precise Morse Code key taps for the three letters).
You see, it’s not just GCNRA that’s at stake, but an entire community and businesses functioning as a banker and broker for the region. With the dam and basin gone with the water, so to say, the place that everyone now knows may revert to the place no one knows, just as before. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, I’d say, and it’s more likely Glen Canyon will still be visited by people, either coming by way of the Colorado River (for its muddy stream will once again join its parts) or campers and hikers. On the other hand, the multi-millions of tourism’s boast will be reduced to the multi-thousands per annum, if that much.
Ah well, Page can still function as an economical hub and real estate center, though somewhat downsized. Maybe the city fathers who hang around can even still maintain its world famous 18-hole tournament class golf course. As for Aramark, well, what will those folks do with hundreds of houseboats and PWC's (personal water craft)? Well, I'd say if they would help clean out the crap their workers dumped into the lake over the years, then maybe ABF truck lines (You pack it, we ship it) will allow a discount to ship the watercraft to another lake (but not downstream to Lake Mead because climatologists and hydrologists think it's lifespan is even much shorter than Powell's).
Now for those ideas and solutions that have been steadily submitted and considered by the NPS over the years. . .
How Far Would You Go To Save Your Town And Community?
One idea proposed to the administrators was designing humongous out-take lagoons placed near each of the three rivers, then diverting incoming water and filtering the bulk of sediment. (This idea also appears to parallel the more difficult concept of rerouting the Colorado River’s channel once it exits Cataract Canyon, then bypassing Glen Canyon, but with one or two likely scenarios: either maintain the lake basin as is, or drain it.) Creating lagoons entails a means of storing nearly sediment-free water that could be released back into the lake. With the commencement of a year-round dredging operations, specifically at the entry points of each river, the amount of sediment could greatly be reduced. The current estimated load removed from Lake Powell certainly speaks volumes (no pun intended) for how much time and costs are involved for such a zealous and costly operation. Consider also how much sediment is dumped into its basin on a daily basis. In a word, tons. No, let’s just make that mega tons, with the Colorado River’s inflow being the much heavier supplier.
Another question to entertain directly applies to removal of the sludge, which was raised early on by naysayers opposing the idea: Where would this sizable and accumulated mass be stored? Moreover, could it possibly be used as road-filler material, perhaps dirt or compost, and thus useful? As it turns out, plans submitted for removing aggradation and where to store the stuff really haven’t been seriously addressed. About the only thing that has come up is an attempt to remove the source material and dumping it somewhere else. If this scenario ever proves to be the case, then the net result would be an unattractive synthetic grayish mountain in someone’s backyard (likely on or near the Navajo Reservation, and certainly nowhere near Page).
This photo sizes up what the Navajo Reservation looks like in this vicinity. Ergo, storing Lake Powell's crap in this landscape would be nothing less than an abominable eyesore!
Another idea proposes constructing mini-coffer dams to help relieve the stress of aggradation in Lake Powell. The idea is similar to a previously submitted idea of setting up something akin to giant colanders at the mouths of the three rivers, which act as filters for collecting sediment. These smaller coffer dam sinks would thus be periodically dredged and the muck dumped somewhere on the desert. Again to pose the question: Where, exactly, would the anomalous residue end up? (So far that answer is not addressed in the proposal, although I, personally, think it should be delivered to Congress’ doorstep, since their fraternity was responsible for authorizing the dam and lake in the first place.) It is also thought by erecting coffer dams how Lake Powell could cleanse its basin with fresh water, because a trinity of coffer dam facilities could feed back into the main basin minus the impurities. This picture shows Glen Canyon's original coffer dam before the big dam was built:
Still another proposal centered on saving the huge expense of adjacent coffer dams, and, instead, drain the lake, clean out the muck at the bottom, then start over. However, this time engineers would add expedient measures to prevent sediment from entering into the basin, while also continuing with any of the proposals just mentioned. (The expedient measures were not mentioned, though it is thought or assumed the process would have something to do with attempting to filter sediment from the water before flowing into Lake Powell’s basin.)
Incidentally, no one has ever done a study (as far as I know) on just how long it would take to clean the Glen's spoiled interior. Still, it's likely one of those multi-generational tasks will end up taking a hundred years or more. Glen Canyon is, after all, nearly 200-miles-long and has an enormity of side canyon drainages. Even Caterpillar and the like can't navigate such big equipment in such restricted terrain. Ergo, it will take barges, maybe thousands of them, to haul the crap out of there, but workers needed to scour the drainages and hand carry everything to the river.
Add to the modest list another idea proposed raising the height of the dam’s wall, where even twenty or so feet higher would drastically raise the level of the lake, thereby augmenting its longevity. The Bureau of Reclamation actually had this idea all along, though Congress ultimately disallowed the plan. Ergo, the agency had to downsize the dam’s height to its present size, though it's still a towering structure.
Had the BOR got its approval for raising the height of the dam, then a larger coffer dam was also necessary to build and protect Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which, again, the BOR initially sanctioned this same idea. Also, by allowing for more storage capacity for sediment (i.e., because of a higher dam in place), the problem of continued aggradation would still not be resolved. Then again, vested government agencies would certainly have more time to study their options. And we all know how the government at any level loves to have more time studying any problem!
Last but not least in the lineup of venturesome ideas is the recourse some people consider the only practical and opportune solution: drain the lake and raise the dam’s wall. This is the most radical proposal heard over the years. Once accomplished, supporters say build nothing like it anywhere close to Glen Canyon. But I'm thinking that idea was put at the bottom of the NPS pile, solely for the sake of trying to keep the two factions from going into the ring of dispute and duking it out. If nothing else, the round hat parkys in their green suits prefer being peacekeepers in all negotiations with the public. Let's just say they're here to protect, serve and negotiate, and sometimes contemplating decisions until the cows come home. . .
The government has already begun dismantling some dams, at least overseeing these projects handed over to other enterprises specialized in this field. However, none of the Upper and Lower Basin state’s prized dams have been touched; even those considered as expendable trophies remain part of the view. While the problem of Lake Powell drags on, we can almost be assured the Glen Canyon Dam, as a man-made icon of the Twentieth-First Century, will remain visible for many years into the future.
Meanwhile, what have we learned from this upper Colorado River’s damming as a viable lesson with many extenuating problems? Fundamentally this ongoing tutorial: Lake Powell’s continued ailments mentioned above appears to have at least thwarted similar dam projects from being built on a huge scale in this part of the country. Moreover, damming canyons and creating reservoirs is a high stakes game where no players are ultimately deemed winners. On the other paw, sometimes playing the game can be fun. . .
While dams built by the BOR are considered sturdy and safe, depending on where each is located, the terrain of the environment also depends how long the basin will last before nature reclaims the setting. Dams may last for as long as their foundations are not breached; however, basins are susceptible to a much shorter lifespan if plagued by aggradation, porous sedimentary foundations, and solar evaporation, which all three factors are common in parts of the Colorado River Basin territory. The vexing problem of drought and iffy climatic reports acerbates the problem. The bottom line? Just this: it’s all the worse for maintaining acceptable water levels necessary to maintain Lake Powell’s service utility, both as a basin storage facility and abetting the dam works for its on-demand (i.e., cash register status) hydroelectricity status.
That Other Token Lesson And Boon
As the conservationist movement grew over the decades, an avant-garde outlook, as perceived by a revamped mindset, garnered support from people typically on the fence regarding the GCNRA. Even those who had never formed an opinion soon did. The movement’s message came down to an apt cliche: Walk softly in the wilderness. The obvious intent was tacit: Don’t alter what nature had painstakingly fashioned over the eons. Specifically, Glen Canyon's haven provided such an exemplary environmental consciousness as though by osmosis (call it her SOS if you like). Nonprofit organizations have since vigorously campaigned against the canyon’s hulking keeper, the dam, and have criticized the faltering lake behind its sweeping monument. True, the basin with the bold background of an illusory rock fortresses rising from its depths was still an attractive attraction in the eyes of tourists, while below the surface there were definite and distinct problems that had long ago set in and got worse over the years.
Glen Canyon Institute (www.glencanyon.org), the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org), Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA––www.suwa.org), Wasatch Mountain Club (www.wasatchmountainclub.org), and Earth First (www.earthfirst.org) were some of the more popular names on the list of conservationists carrying the torch for David Brower and others like him. Part of the directive implemented by these organizations was disseminating reports many people were not aware of, then or now. Those campaigns highlighted the negative impact of dams, especially desert-basin structures that should never have got funded in the first place. But things have obviously changed because of such actions taken. Attitudes have changed. Policies have changed. The government has even toned down its former ideals of how to manage water resources and not necessarily follow the guidelines of the Colorado River Storage Project enacted in 1956. Those wall-building dam days are also a trend of the past. Taking a page from the Hohokam’s prehistoric canal-building days (around present-day Phoenix), the new fad touts canals and aqueducts hundreds of miles long, which continue divvying up the basin state’s allocated water shares.
Here is an image of what these people (the Hohokam) built over a thousand years ago:
Taking a page out of their common sense book, here is today's canal system, and some routes that used the older canals dug by the Hohokam:
From yesterday’s sleepy time attitude of people not getting involved in environmental concerns, the 1960s protests over the Viet Nam War, which continued well into the 70s, also created a new generation of people fostering brash attitudes about all sorts of things that especially complimented pro environmental movements. Care and concern of the ecology and open spaces was paramount. Following the lead of David Brower, more people finally began to see Glen Canyon’s original domain and appearance, which some said was analogous to a sacred myth discredited, and whose new frontier and look was only approachable by watercraft; at least the canyon’s most optimum features could not be hiked or explored. Photographs, books, and some preserved 8mm movies, mostly filmed by novices, were the only tangible means available to tell the story of a former pristine habitat. Combined, these visual and literary works focused on that other Glen Canyon. These nostalgic offerings had indeed captured a time and place before a great flood of Biblical proportion sideswiped the canyon’s preeminent view. But there’s no ark found here in the depths of Lake Powell. Neither is there anything inviolable about Floyd Dominy’s shining jewel in the desert. His role given what happened here suggests part of the gist the aforementioned works idolized––a lovely place rudely usurped by those who would beguile a legendary dragon river with a dam. The intended promotion backed by supporters of the Glen was the only means to show and share with others the lost world of a canyon that, in the eyes of these pro environmental organizations, really should never have been lost. The ensuing promotion and campaign has indeed changed public outlook.
To The Victor Go The Spoils
New York’s Senator William Marcy said these very words in 1831. He had in mind how the ravages of war, particularly the side that wins, gets it way and takes what it wants. In contemporary times, we use the phrase more symbolically or metaphorically. For the purpose of this diary, the victor is a combination of the BOR and manifested tourism he counted on for support (obviously, influencing a following of lake supporters). There are therefore no spoils for such support. For those who felt and thought the other way, however, the loss of an unadulterated backcountry transformed into a popular inland recreation hub, where a riot of large and small vessels ply Lake Powell’s waters, was indeed tantamount to spoils. In this encapsulated analysis of the matter is also found the thesis (the real Glen Canyon), antithesis (Lake Powell) and the hopeful synthesis (a return to this former virgin domain) of a longstanding argument all rolled into one. The argument is also based on the then and now appearance. The former look is sort of there, yet it’s not.
Meanwhile, beneath the keel of a variety of watercraft and pleasure-seeking people on board there are no maudlin ruminations of what’s below: the Glen’s most treasured assets––her idyllic niches once showcased in most of the numerous tendrils (side canyon annexes). Let it also be said how the general trend and attitude of too many people in that incipient time of transforming Glen Canyon into a national recreational area was not to question or test authority: just go along with the flow and do what the Eagles hit song of the 1970s verbalized: Take it easy! Like, these dudes:
Since Lake Powell’s appearance this curio of wonder in a desert wasteland is nonetheless a captivating sight to behold, even for those who hold disdain for its creation. For these dissidents, the towering backdrop, its elongate parapet broken here and there by deep fissures in the overall structure, might as well be a massive headstone considering what’s deep below the waterline. It’s also the final brush stroke of a dark blue accent and a cache of lake water that makes the picturesque tableau so chimerical, yet appealing to some. Here, again, such spoils realized today (and since then by a relative few) have undermined Dominy’s victory. A new multitude of environmental supporters has emerged. The question is: Where is the argument of thesis going from here? One might also ask when is the Glen Canyon of old coming back to us?
Other Alternative Solutions Suggesting An Impending Synthesis
Regarding the suggestive and debatable nature of this diary, scientists continue studying dams based on an emphasis of more refined scrutiny associated with these massive edifices that impound fresh water. For instance, what a collection of academic disciplines knows about sedimentation buildup and how this problem cannot be obviated in the near future. The favored unanimity endorsing this view is especially the case here in sandstone country, where basins are laden with clastic particles eternally transported by sediment-laden rivers and streams (because that's how these aquatic conveyors function). In this regard, the Glen Canyon Dam effectively blocks some 95% of sediment inflow. What this startling fact translates to is how dams are all temporary barriers built across any river’s path. Period. And there is a lot of information pertaining to this matter presented on the Internet, that is, for those skeptics or holdouts who still think this lake can really make it on its own. Thus the naive concept that nature will eventually render the solution, not humankind. Actually, by scientific accounts, the BOR and its allies created a problem that, thus far, has no known solution other than removing the structure or building another basin farther up the line, which, again, merely perpetuates the problem. Ah, but are their solutions? Alternatives in solving the problem? Glad you asked. . .
Factoring In The Alternatives: Technology is sometimes innovative as it is helpful. In this case, finding ways around dams so to say. For instance, consider modernized irrigation methods, implementing more efficient methods for flood control, and how about relying on alternative sources of energy for a change? Besides, solar, wind, and cleaner-burning bio fuels are all ideal substitutes for hydroelectric dam facilities, as well as replacement sources for fossil fuel plants burning coal––that cheap and readily available energy source, but also the chief culprit smudging the sky and fouling the atmosphere with trapped greenhouse emissions.
So it may one day become a reality how concrete or earthen dams really are temporary landscape structures. Each type of dam also creates a progressive series of common problems. These imminent complications begin with a buildup of aggradation and end with ruined downstream ecology due to cold and clear water spewing far below the crest of the dam. No wonder dam removal is increasingly popular in contemporary times. For instance, over 460 dams, according to one source (the Glen Canyon Institute) have thus far been removed over the past 40 years. The impetus behind the movement is rightfully credited to the River Restoration Movement. Essentially, its eco philosophy relates how dams have traditionally been built to provide flood control, irrigation, storage basin capacity, hydroelectric power, recreation, even fire protection. Most dams were also built primarily for two of those reasons: recreation and flood control. It follows how all the dams built to date some 2,200 that are used to generate hydro power. In this century, the counterpoint to this declaration is how most dams in the United States have outlived their original purpose, and by some accounts, around 4,000 have been deemed unsafe by state and federal inspectors. About a dozen years from now some 85% of these dams will be well over 50 years old, which denotes the average life of many dams in many places throughout North America.
The other downside to dams is that each becomes less economically viable over time, meaning non sustainable. Thus, as sediment accumulates behind the wall of the dam, its basin can handle only so much of this extremely heavy and solidified gunk. In time, the residue can even impede water going to the turbines or hamper the dam’s flood control capability. (For more background about this matter see the remarks on dead pool below.) All of which can be rather costly given the upkeep of basic maintenance, as well as upgrading machinery necessary to conform with ongoing regulatory requirements. It may also come as a surprise to some people how removing dams is often less expensive than trying to maintain their utility.
Knowing how sediment continues to funnel into Lake Powell at the rate calculated from sonar surveys conducted in the 1980s, and here reiterating some of the information already mentioned in the diaries, to fill its basin’s 27 million acre-feet would take about 700 years. Yet this time span is considered by some scientists nothing less than a gross overestimate; indeed, a fantasy based on two of the three main virtues. Many scientists even predict within two decades, perhaps three at the most, the escalated demand for Colorado River water and a continued falling supply will drop the surface of the reservoir to its lowest level, known as dead pool. Because the lowest exit from the dam (the river outlet works) is 237 feet above the original riverbed, at dead pool Lake Powell will still hold some 2 million acre-feet of water, one-thirteenth of capacity. The bottom line: to fill this still hugely long lake (the 2 million acre-feet figure) with sediment won’t take seven hundred or so years. Instead, less than one hundred years is a more realistic figure. Indeed, far less. There is also one other problem dam engineers and scientists are keenly aware of: basins are designed to hold water, not silt. Go figure! Now consider this accumulated mass-like putty in the guise of everyday mud. Wet mud weighs roughly twice as much as an equal volume of water. Currently, it’s estimated Lake Powell has room for about 70 billion tons of sediment. (This assertion is out there in the reports but so far the origins of the stats cannot be found, just so you know.) The question now is the same one intimated earlier: How much aggradation has already effected the lake and how much more can it hold until the lake is essentially gorged and the dam threatened? Also, whenever estimates of aggradation and a consequential diminished lifespan (of the lake) arises, disagreement by the two opposing sides commences, each suggesting different remedies to heal the patient. Complicating matters is one side more than the other favors science and research in prescribing the antidote, while the other tends to distrust scientific methodology and its summary reports. In short, when conferences concerning the patient are convened one can expect to hear almost anything in the way of suggestions. Even the AMA sometimes makes better diagnosis of the patient.
The shorter argument about the Glen Canyon Dam comes down to the pivotal point its structure has served as a vital turning point in a birth (and some may call it a rebirth) spawning a modernized environmental movement. Thus, and in a way, the dam may have put the Glen to sleep by way of her immersion by water, but the whole of this frontier, wet or dry, remains the symbolic beating heart of the movement. Moreover, it is a no bar holds eco philosophy representative of a contemporary societal attitude geared to restoring free-flowing rivers and revitalizing ecosystems that are vitally dependent on the natural chemistry of these rivers.
The United States inventories some 2 million dams of various sizes. The Army Corps of Engineers oversees some 75,000 dam edifices larger than 6 feet and tens of thousands of smaller ones. It follows the previously sited numbers of unsafe dams (4,000 or thereabouts) is taken in context. So is the number of deemed unsafe dams in America’s dam inventory.
A Modern Day Indian-led Warpath That Shed No Blood On White-Eye
In 2011, the planned removal of two large hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River (Washington State) made regional news, though the report likely was unnoticed throughout most of America. At the time, it was considered the largest dam removal project in United States history, and was one of several major dam removals planned for this year that directly related to a growing river restoration movement. Most of the 45-mile long Elwha River, which eventually empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is located in Washington’s Olympic National Park (on the Olympic Peninsula). The river is also home to all five species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, Coho, Chum, Sockeye and Pink), including three species of trout. Before the dams were built an estimated 400,000 salmon returned to the river to spawn each year. Afterward, a mere 3,000 returned to the native 5 miles of habitat that was below the first dam. As a consequence, about 90% of the habitat was unreachable! As Chief Rich likes to say: "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" (In this case, these tribal people were definitely dealt a bad hand.)
True, the government’s fish passages were added to the dam's design to help salmon migrate further upstream. Then again, there were other mitigated environmental side effects that still prevented salmon species from recovering their former and greater numbers. (There really is no substitute given what Nature has already provided over millions of years, right?) The indigenous Lower Elwha Klallam tribal people complained mightily about this fact of diminished fish census, but for the longest time no other corrective action was taken, that is, until fairly recently. The turnabout policy happened earlier, in 1992, when the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act was approved. The act provided for the restoration of the Elwha River by removing its two dams. The price for this decision was $325 million dollars, which included the acquisition of the two dams and hydroelectric plants from the former owner; also, the construction of two water treatment plants, flood protection facilities, a major fish hatchery, even a greenhouse to grow native plants for revegetation.
Sometimes it takes a war of words to get things done, then backed by the legal system. So let’s just quote the cliche phrase Power to the people! and give credit where credit’s due. And this turnabout in policy and change was all because a community had come together and knew what corrective action should be taken. It’s also interesting to note how the Elwha Dam constructed in 1913, which stood 108-feet above the water, was primarily built to supply power to the city of Port Angeles and a lumber mill. Then later, in 1927, the higher 210-foot high Glines Canyon Dam was built further upstream. Its structure also supported so-called additional economic growth on the Olympic Peninsula. However, all that hoopla and God bless America (and damming) chanting was about to change.
It is estimated the removal process of both dams will take between 2.5 and 3 years. There is also a lot of estimated sediment stored behind the dams (about 15 million cubic yards). Eventually, the return of the salmon will support some 100 other wildlife and aquatic species. It will therefore be a win-win scenario for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and all the species involved in this affair. Add to this report how dams with fish ladders, which are popular add-on features throughout the Northwest, might seem like a good idea as a quick-fix government plan, but numerous fish are often injured or killed swimming up the ladders. They also become too exhausted or stressed by the much warmer temperatures to spawn even when reaching their destination. Ergo, nice try, but Go fish! in a manner of speaking.
Vindicating Glen Canyon’s Impoundment By Water
What does this tribal-related sidebar have to do with Glen Canyon’s retrofit? Likely, talks will one day become more serious in the sense the dam may have to go. This shocking assessment is principally based on sediment removal and is likely altogether impossible. If a healthy ecology matters to some (as it really should), and therefore takes precedence over recreation (sorry boating dudes), a bustling economy based on same, including damn near everything else associated with dams and basins standing behind such structures, the end result of removing Glen Canyon’s dam restores the Colorado River’s natural flow. The return of the free Colorado will thereby increase biodiversity downstream, because vegetation and habitats are also restored. The removal of the dam also revives former native fish species, at least those that were smart enough to find a new and warmer and muddier habitat off the river’s corridor, say, in side streams and the Little Colorado River (where officially ends Marble Canyon’s annex). Consequently, those species of so-called replacement fish that prefer cold and clear water will continue downstream; and like the chub, razorback, and pikeminnow species that once thrived in the Grand Canyon before the 1960s, the trout and others will either adapt, go elsewhere or simply die off. (And, yes, bye-bye to trophy anglers, including osprey and bald eagles that presently have a field day picking off trout and other species due to the clear water below their talons.)
These guys just don't like warm and muddy water, besides:
But these guys do (razorback):
The upshot of the new idealism that has come from the Glen Canyon-Lake Powell restoration project comes down to the finer points of shifting government attitudes, as well as a direct endorsement for an eco-ideology fostered by a growing environmental movement over the decades. Here I recall a statement Brower made, where he said It is absolutely imperative that we protect, preserve and pass on this genetic heritage for man and every other living thing in as good a condition as we received it. In another speech he pointed to a specific reasons for going on the warpath waged against his specific foe, Dominy: It seems that every time mankind is given a lot of energy, we go out and wreck something with it.
The modernized version of David and Goliath (Floyd Dominy) is the more personalized crux of the Glen Canyon-Lake Powell saga. David may not have won that particular battle with the forceful commissioner, yet this archdruid (Brower), as depicted by John McPhee’s tome, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971), provides a fascinating fictional read chronicling Brower’s struggle against miners, developers and (especially) the BOR. The third segment of the book is particularly droll and daunting, that is, given the return of the fabled battles between these two hotheads. Ironically, the radicalized Brower and equally feisty Dominy sometimes get along in McPhee’s down-river odyssey and its narrative. Then again, as Wendy Nelson Espeland states in her tome, The Struggle for Water, "It’s really the BOR that carries much of the blame for Brower’s radicalized nature."
The Mythical And Beastly Hydra-turned-Supportive
Ansel Adams wrote: It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. What Brower, et al., did, however, was not wage a radical war resulting in injury, death or damage. (Ergo, he was no upstart Hayduke type or any of the other adversarial characters in the Monkey Wrench gang.) Instead, a legal means was sought to assuage a growing and tense situation that might have turned topsy-turvy if cooler heads could not prevail. Consequently, a plethora of nonprofit organizations formed an alliance, some new, some old, each digging in for legal contests to follow. In a way, these organizations and a large contingency of people fronting a common cause put into action what Robert Redford would later in time ratify with his heedful statement: I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resource is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?
This is the approach environmentalist's endorsed:
Radical environmentalism, however, thought this was the best solution:
As far as things go, there was certainly a great shift of government attitude about its former ways. For instance, the history of the River Restoration Movement, as depicted on the Glen Canyon Institute’s site, relates key events that likely led to the increasing momentum of conservationist movement foundations and organizations, some of which are outlined here:
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 that declares a national policy to encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between humankind of the environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1970 mission to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment––air, water, and land––upon which life depends.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1972) and its heightened concern over the pollution of waterways led to the creation of this act, which regulates discharges of pollutants in American waters.
The Endangered Species Act (1973) that provides momentum to the environmental movement.
The Clean Water Act (1977), which are amendments to the earlier Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
And some few others also listed on the site. The Glen Canyon Institute, itself, was founded in 1996, expressly with a mission to restore a free flowing Colorado River through Glen and Grand canyons.
“The Environment Is Everything That Isn’t Me”
Albert Einstein said those words and I think he, if you'll excuse the seeming contradiction, also speaks for those who fight for Lake Powell’s draining and those who support its being there. The issue is, after all, in the eye of the beholder, and of course beauty is always subjective. I think where the proverbial twain does not meet is in the exacting and irrefutable environmental harm that continues to be more perilous for the dam and the basin it created, like a liquid Frankenstein. The downstream harmful effects that have altered the Grand Canyon’s ecology, including a seriously lacking scouring power of the river, is part of the collateral damage. Did no one in the NPS even have a say what was going to happen to one domain, the Grand Canyon's, because of the other domain that was to be sacrificed? Were geologists, ecologists and hydrologists summoned to meet with BOR engineers before the deed was done? I think not. Had such a meeting taken place, someone in that room surely would have stood up to Dominy: You're making a dam (sic) big mistake if you go through this madcap plan of yours!
The above mentioned synthesis is a scenario that's going to happen sooner or later. In the interim, and given all the talk that never cooks the rice, those in favor of the lake want the basin here for as long as possible. As one supporter mentioned at a save it or drain it symposium I attended (though I forget the actual name that was given), I'm from Missouri: show me! What he meant was photographs or some other proof of just how much aggradation was trapped inside the basin. I guess he had a point, though the rebuttal he got about sonar mapping and other evidence just didn't sink in (so to say).
Well, the fact is people really do love the environment, though sometimes each in his or her own way. For those who love recreation pertaining to what Lake Powell offers, maintaining such a preference sequesters the knowledge of what’s happening below its lengthy surface, literally and figuratively. For most of these vacationeers and business owners, Lake Powell’s artificial oasis in the desert has been sort of canonized by the Friends of Lake Powell, and Page might as well be a surrogate Vatican See laid out on top of a comely flaming orange-tinctured mesa (meaning no intended ignominy to Catholics). The Friends equally serve as a surrogate Swiss Guard in force minus the colorful apparel and spears. Apparently, this side of the dam-fence issue is well dug in, and so far not yielding to the prudence many scientists advise about moving on. Ergo, an acknowledgement of who really has the trump card in this matter, and is a much better poker player than all of us: Mother Nature. Her tell is also out in the open: she doesn't intend to deceive us with the cards she plays.
Meanwhile, these folks are gambling the lake will stay as is, regardless the consistent bad report card grades:
So consider this point of view that warrants thinking and action taken: the upshot of the growing environmental movements that directly or indirectly resulted from the damming at Glen Canyon have yielded tremendous recovery efforts and sanctioned legal acts designed to tighten restrictions what can or cannot be done to the environment by any means and for any purpose. Thus far, it’s not a perfect scenario, not by any means. Yet it’s a good start. Floodplain protection, hydropower dam relicensing, water quality and removal denote some of the advantages toward recognizing the pivotal responsibility to protect the nest of that indomitable poker player, specifically manifested through the environment and all the ecosystems that help sustain all life.
Final Thoughts To These Epistles
The transparency behind my composing this chatty series of diaries reflects the challenge just mentioned. Indeed, there are a number of challenges, and this giant lake basin (so far, still a giant) serves as a personal declaration to stand up for the Glen in whatever way that I can. There are indeed problems here that need to be rectified. . .that is, ultimate and lasting rectification. Let me also site a recent report submitted on the web by the Earth Observatory. Its noteworthy facts are fairly standard these days, meaning telling and truthful. The latest figures comes down to the summation of Lake Powell and the ongoing drought-plagued region. Lower precipitation also combines with explosive urban populations scattered throughout the Southwest (and West), which poses a formidable quandary for Western water management well into the near future: how to manage so little liquid assets for so many users.
According to the latest report, the peak inflow to Lake Powell, which occurs mid- to late spring (i.e., the snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains). Over the 2010-2011 winter, there was more water flowing into Lake Powell, whose welcomed episode lasted into the spring of 2012. In fact, inflow levels were even higher than previous levels during the spring. Then again, regional snowfall in the spring of 2012 was unusually low. Thus, the inflow to Lake Powell did not begin to increase in May (2012) as it had during the previous four years. In July, the forecast for the 2012 year (based on October 1 through the following September 30 months) would likely be “very dry, yet not nearly as dry as conditions were in 2002.” Thus, the Bureau of Reclamation predicted Lake Powell, for 2012, would be the third-driest year since the closure of the dam’s diversion tunnels in 1963. We’ll see, because predictions about the environment as similar to the stock market. Thus the two different polarities, optimism or pessimism, can flip-flop on any given day.
And now for another taste of literary Abbey regarding his unvarnished opinion about this overall subject matter. . .
In his summation of the dam, Ed Abbey’s words pretty much describes how he and some others felt about its structure: Surely no manmade structure in modern American history has been hated so much, by so many, for so long, with such good reason. Well, you have to give him credit for never mincing words or how he felt about anything or anyone. Love him or hate him is how most people feel about this curmudgeon and self-made environmental spokesperson of the American Southwest. Still, his classic Desert Solitaire is considered the best eco bible ever written and is even more popular than Thoreau’s or Leopold’s works! With respect to his more environmental radicalism laid out in the Monkey Wrench Gang and Hayduke Lives! (the sequel), it’s a damn good thing those singular malcontents appearing in both tomes did not manage to do the deed by blowing up the dam. As it turns out, someone did the math and calculated how that much water rushing downstream would have been enough to topple the Hoover Dam and every other dam in its way. Hence, it would be worst catastrophic outcome solely based on personal feuding and venting. Not good!
This concludes my views, while sometimes inserting a diatribe or two (har har), on the drowning of the lady in the canyon. I also decided to provide a bonus addendum (tomorrow's posting), which will be a more intimate account of one of my own Glen Canyon experiences. For those who may still have an appetite for this subject matter, though an exclusive diary apart from the rigamaroleas explained in the previous offerings. . . once read you will fully understand why so many of us have been pissed off over the years given what happened here. Indeed, even those who favor Lake Powell may have begin to foster doubts about the changeover of a nonpareil environs––sine qua non for its breathtaking beauty––to an admittedly picturesque and aquatic playground.
As always, your positive comments are welcomed.
Edward Abbey: Monkey Wrench Gang and Hayduke Lives!
David Brower: Oral Interview (Brancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, 1979
––––– Environmental Activist, Publicist, and Prophet (Berkeley: Brancroft Library Oral History Program, University of California, 1980)
Bureau of Reclamation: Lake Powell - Jewel of the Colorado (U. S. Department of the Interior, 1965)
C. Gregory Crampton: Ghosts of Glen Canyon (History Beneath Lake Powell)
Jared Farmer: Glen Canyon Dammed (Inventing Lake Powell & the Canyon Country)
Philip L. Fradkin: A River No More: The Colorado River and the West
Rich Holtzin: Beauty Lost (Glen Canyon Before Lake Powell) pending publication
Eleanor Inskip (editor): Glen Canyon (Before Lake Powell) Historic Photo Journal 872 to 1964
Russel Martin: A Story That Stands Like a Dam, (Glen Canyon and the Struggle for the Soul of the West)
John McPhee: Encounters With the Archdruid
Tad Nichols: Glen Canyon (Images of a Lost World)
Eliot Porter: The Place No One Knew (Glen Canyon on the Colorado––Abridged)
James Lawrence Powell: Dead Pool (Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future Water in the West)
John Wesley Powell: The Exploration of the Colorado and its Canyons
Marc Reisner: Cadillac Desert (he American West and its Disappearing Water)
Donald Worster: A River Running West (The Life of John Wesley Powell)
––––– Rivers of Empire (Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West)
URL RESEARCH SITES
Bureau of Reclamation:
Glen Canyon Natural History Association:
University Libraries Salinity Data (Lake Powell and Lake Mead PDF):
Friends of Lake Powell:
Glen Canyon Institute:
Research on Dam Risks:
Research on Grand Canyon HFE’s (flooding):
Research on Grand Canyon ecology damage:
Research on ecology and the Glen Canyon Dam influence:
Research on aggradation:
Research on proposals to drain lake power:
Research on Glen Canyon Dam:
Research on Glen Canyon Dam controversy:
Research on dredging:
Research on Page City Council on dredging:
Research on dredging Lake Powell:
Research on for or against Lake Powell proposals:
Research on water levels:
Research on Lake Mead and Lake Powell water levels:
Research on Lake Powell water levels: