Posts Tagged ‘Glen Canyon’


The Glen Canyon Dam: Scourge of the Colorado

I’m writing this in response to this article about staging a flood in the Grand Canyon. Last week, water behind the Glen Canyon dam was released in an effort to reinvigorate the Colorado River’s dying ecosystem. The photos are from the construction of the Glen Canyon dam, unless otherwise noted.

There was a time when dams made a lot of sense. From the 1930’s through the 50’s the federal government commissioned hundreds of dams throughout the rivers of this hard land. Dams provided a clean, renewable form of power. They retained water for use in agricultural irrigation. It seemed like a win-win.
As with many good ideas, this one was beaten to death. What began as a way to provide power and water to the people while providing jobs for then-unemployed workers petered out in the 1960’s amidst controversy. Dams do have negative environmental impacts. In the Colombia River gorge, salmon could no longer swim upstream to reach their spawning grounds. The US Corps of Engineers had to build salmon runs so the fish could get back to where they once belonged. In the Colorado River, so many dams were built that the river no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. Sorry, Mexico! No clean water for you!
The Glen Canyon dam was originally meant to be two dams constructed in Dinosaur National Monument. Pressure from environmental groups caused the government to rethink its plan, and a compromise was made. There would be one dam in northern Arizona.Before the dam, the Colorado River ran through Glen Canyon, carrying nutrient-rich silt downstream. It was a remote area, a series of crevices cut into the barren desert floor. It was peaceful but inhospitable to human life.

It was the land John Wesley Powell traveled on his reconnaissance missions in 1869 and 1871. The one-armed professor was truly a naturalist before his time. Powell made maps and took flora and fauna notes on the previously unknown land (to white Americans, at any rate). Based on his findings, Powell made recommendations on how many people this land could support. The government has ignored Powell’s astute observations, and now folks in Phoenix get to have green grass in their yards and flowing public fountains in blatant disregard of the kind of land they inhabit.
For his troubles, the reservoir behind the Glen Canyon dam was named Lake Powell. I’m not sure John Wesley would have approved.
Glen Canyon today is submerged. The beautiful Rainbow Arch is still there, but now motorboats full of fat tourists can cruise by like it’s just another sight to check off the ol’ travelogue. I camped beside Lake Powell with my friend Andy. It is a strange scene. Browns and reds of the desert give way to a totally out-of-place lake.
The dam’s reason for being is essentially moot at this point: the power it generates has to be carried for miles to the nearest city. Lake Powell has rarely been filled to capacity. The water utilized for irrigation could be much better used as it was originally intended: as a source of life for the Colorado River.
There is a sign at the visitor center near Glen Canyon dam. It shows a picture of the Colorado River from above, and beside it there is a caption. The caption reads, in part:

“…the Colorado has become the major source of life-giving water and power for a vast region, as well as a prime recreation region. But the Colorado has not yielded her treasures without struggle…” [my italics]

Will the flood work? I’m no scientist, but I don’t think a three-day flood will undo damage 50-plus years in the making. Ed Abbey got it right. The only way for us to undo the damage is by completely removing the Glen Canyon dam. There are plenty of dams along the Colorado that provide water to the Southwest, and the Glen Canyon dam is not one of them.

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lake powell and the colorado river

lakepowell_19990325Thanks to NASA and the Landsat 5 satellite, we have this series of images of the water level in Lake Powell and the river that feeds it, the Colorado. Lake Powell, as readers of this blog are no doubt aware, is a man-made lake at the head of the Glen Canyon Dam.

Due to a natural scarcity of water in the southwest, Lake Powell hasn’t been at full capacity for (I don’t know how many) years. I’m one of those canyon-huggers who believes the dam should be taken down so the Colorado can deliver its nutrient-rich silt downstream to the Grand Canyon. Not to get all Lorax on you, dear readers, but I think the fish need the water more than the region needs the negligible amount of electricity the dam produces.

In any case, the images are worth checking out. On the same website you can see satellite pictures showing how much Dubai has grown in the past 9 years. Gosh, I remember when it was a wee lad of 1.130 million.


r. crumb’s ed abbey

My favorite Robert Crumb book adaptation does not quite exist. Years ago, he made illustrations for Ed Abbey’s masterpiece novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Unlike his recent Genesis, The Monkey Wrench Gang is not fully illustrated. There are spot illustrations punctuating the text.monkeywrench-gang
Google has most of the book online, incredibly, so you can check out all of Crumb’s illustrations on your own. I’ve collected a few favorites here, though, so I can have something to blog about today.

The plot of The Monkey Wrench Gang is pretty zany. A group of good folks commit acts that corporate America would call vandalism but that those of us who happen to like the out-of-doors would call preservation. Preservation of land that has gotten uglied up by billboards, roads, power lines: all the usual detritus of man. Their master plan, never enacted but often spoken of longingly, is to blow up the Glen Canyon dam, that concrete boogeyman straddling the Utah/Arizona border. The Monkey-Wrenchers consider it their patriotic duty to preserve the beauty of the American West.monkeywrench-billboard
Abbey loved the West. A transplant (like most people living in western states today), he saw the unprecedented growth that was going on and instinctively recoiled. Growth is not a bad thing in and of itself, but unchecked growth is a cancer. Abbey noted the difference and fought against the malignant development that continues to happen long after his untimely death.

Of course The Monkey Wrench Gang is not meant to be a primer on waging a war against evil developers. It is a comic novel with environmental themes. It’s a bit of fantasy many of us would never dream of fulfilling in real life. Who among us hasn’t driven by a development of multi-million dollar homes scarring the foothills of a mountain or gutting what was once forest or prairie and thought, “wouldn’t it be great if they just burned to the ground?”monkeywrench-dynamite
We would not do such a thing. In fact, this blog is against violence of any kind, be it to humans, animals, plants, or evil land developers. But just as I would never consider putting a giant crack in the Glen Canyon dam, I abhor those people who consider land unbuilt-upon as land wasted. I’d rather write my Congressman to have that bastard dam dismantled. (Or better yet, blog about it.)

One of the best recurring jokes in the book happens whenever Seldom-Seen Smith crosses over the Glen Canyon dam. A lapsed Mormon, he nevertheless kneels down to pray. He prays that God will send a bolt of lightning to crack the dam in half.monkeywrench-pray
Crumb’s illustrations are perfect because The Monkey Wrench Gang is written in such a cartoony way to begin with. I’ve often thought it would make a great animated movie. Somehow watching real people act out the events in the book wouldn’t do justice to its slapstick momentum. Cartoons are clearly the best way to go.

As it is, having Crumb’s drawings in this edition of the book makes it feel more complete.monkeywrench-helicopter

 


mr. president, tear down this wall

Far be it from me to agree with Ronald Reagan.  Yet I can’t help but repurpose his entreaty to Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall.  Secretary Salazar, tear down these walls!
Glen Canyon Dam

Hetch Hetchy

As a man hailing from the great state of Colorado, you understand the need for the water the Colorado River provides.  Yet the Glen Canyon dam is totally redundant, only serving to block up the water so that it evaporates from the steadily lowering banks of Fake Lake Powell.

Hetch Hetchy was once a beautiful valley, now it only serves as a reservoir for greedy San Franciscans who can’t even be bothered to recycle their precious water.

Let’s usher in a new era of environmental stewardship and add another bullet point to President Obama’s list of accomplishments.