Mother Natures "Time Share" Lake Powell is a family resort for many. Every year at least two million people enjoy its splendor. But I would assume they do not know the trouble that lies beneath. Lake Powell was voted in by a small margin in March, 1956. It was part of the Colorado River Storage Project, also known as CRSP. Ever since it's beginning, some of the people who helped build the dam have had regrets for what has been done to the canyon.
Lake Powell has spurred controversy since its beginning on many issues: environmental problems, water rights, and the energy it generates. But the reservoir has its good points as well. There have been many jobs created and a thriving tourist market that have been the result of the dam. The concern now is the reservoir's water level. At forty percent it is the lowest we have seen the lake since its establishment. We are not expecting more water due to the drought and researchers say it will not be ending soon.
The question is should Lake Powell be refilled? History In 1922 the Colorado River Compact was organized. This organization allocated the resources of the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Upper Basin States (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming) realized that the Colorado River Compact had overestimated the river's annual flow and wanted to guarantee their water rights. The only way the Upper Basin states saw fit to ensure their water was to literally hold onto their water in reservoirs.
1956 brought the beginning of the Glen Canyon dam. But Glen Canyon was not the only site that was being considered as a possible site for the reservoir. Echo Park, in Dinosaur National Monument was another option that was being discussed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Sierra Club was fighting to keep both dams from being built. In the end they had the choice and traded Glen Canyon for Echo Park (Ritchey). June of 1960 brought the beginning of the dam.
Five million yards of concrete were poured into the canyon over the period of two years. The construction did not stop until the dam was complete in September of 1962. After Glen Canyon Dam was completed, and to this day, it stands 710 feet with an average water depth of 560 feet when the reservoir is full. The dam stops water for one 186 miles up stream, creating 2, 200 miles of shore line (Booth). In June of 1980 Lake Powell was filled. For most of us we think of pleasure boating and fun.
And for a special few that had spent time in the canyon, they remember Glen Canyon as the heart of the Colorado Plateau, such as the late Edward Abbey. Abbey was the author of controversial books that were set in the Four Corners area. His most popular book was The Monkey Wrench Gang. It revolved around Glen Canyon and eco-terrorism. The conclusion of the book, which caused the most controversy, was that the characters would load a house boat full of dynamite and blow up Glen Canyon dam. Abbey was also a Park Ranger in Arches National Park for 20 years and always was an out spoken activist on the focus of preserving the American West.
Economy & Tourism The biggest contribution of Lake Powell was not made by the water nor the electricity that it generated, but by the people that the lake draws for its many recreational activities. Lake Powell attracts 2. 5 million people annually. The lake has year round activities; fishing all year and water skiing in the summer. The summer activities are the most popular with the water temperatures reaching 80 degrees. The house boats alone that are stored on the lake are estimated being worth over 190 million dollars.
These boats range from just enough to house a small family, too multi-million dollar three and four story floating creations (Living). The people that use the lake give the very existence to the towns of Page, Arizona and Bullfrog, Utah; not to mention the other marinas around the lake. These towns have provided year round amenities until now. This is the first year that Lake Powell has had to close year round facilities. With the water levels decreasing, Lake Powell has seen a significant drop in visitors to the lake for four years now. The surrounding towns depend on the visitors for their lively-hood.
It has been said the cause was not the level of water, despite the fact that it has dropped 135 feet and is at forty percent of "full-pool." Due to many factors: the decline of the foreign exchange rates, gas prices from the summer of 2004, and the recent terrorist attacks on the United States; there has been lower attendance to all of the National Parks. (11) Even while taking these facts into account, it is hard to rationalize that the water level has not affected the park more than the parks officials have led us to believe. (figure 1. ksl 5 lake powell web) As of November, 15 2004 ARAMARK, who owns the concessionaire rights to five of the lake's marinas, will be closing down all their restaurants and lodging, due to the lack of the lake's visitors. There will still be partial services open in the bigger marinas of Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Hall's Crossing. Their services will be very limited and will include boat rentals, the occasional scenic tour, and fuel services.
At the smaller marinas there will be fuel available for "pay at the pump" customers (Ritchey). Though there have been arrangements made for the lower water levels, it has not seemed to help, even in some cases a futile effort. In the spring of 1999, Antelope Point Marina was finished, at the cost of seventy million dollars. Despite the fact the ramp was intended to be the solution for the problem of the diminishing water level, Antelope Point Marina was the first boat ramp to close down, just three years later, in the summer of 2002. There is another ramp intended for Antelope Point on the opposite side of the marina, but studies have shown that it will end abruptly at the edge of a 500 foot cliff that is not out of the water yet. Another solution is that there has been a three million dollar appropriation bill approved to extend the ramps at Bullfrog, Hall's Crossing, and Wahweap (Ritchey).
With the recent drop in tourism, and water levels that are not cooperating it has proved to be very expensive to the company. This makes the decisions of ARAMARK critical for winter and year round boaters at Lake Powell. The thought of moving marinas has arisen but the expense is too great. It is hard to say what the outcome will be, but the hope of having big water years similar to that of those in 1983 and 1984, are a quick fix people are praying for.
Water Lake Powell has been a holding tank for the past forty years. Its walls are made of porous rock and it is located in a desert that averages over ninety-two degrees throughout the summer months. The problem with water rights along the Colorado River has been in existence since the early 1920's. This was the reason for building the dam, but even then there are those that say it was a mistake. But making it work is what is left for us to figure out. Lake Powell at full capacity can hold twenty seven million acre feet.
An acre foot is 325, 851 gallons, about the amount the average family of four uses each year (Booth). The Colorado River Compact designated that a minimum of 8. 23 million acre feet per year would be delivered to Nevada, Arizona, California, and New Mexico. Lake Powell provides water for about twenty three million people in the seven surrounding states.
The annual flow of the Colorado River is about fifteen million acre feet. Even though we are in a drought there are simple ways that have been suggested on how we can actually gain more water by making small adjustments. figure 2. web One of the greater adjustments that have been made has been in Nevada and Arizona. They have been using a system known as Artificial Recharge. Since both of these states depend greatly on ground water the problem of depleting these finite sources has been a long term concern.
In using Artificial Recharge these states have actually pumped surplus water back into the ground. In the ten years that Arizona has implemented recharging, they have been able to put 1. 8 million acre-feet back into aquifer storage. Nevada has been doing this since 1987 and has been able to store 275, 000 acre-feet, which is only 25, 000 acre-feet shy of what they are allowed to consume from the Colorado River each year.
This system works great for the main reason that they are able to use the ground as a savings bank. When you think of pouring water into the ground most would assume it to be waste-full, but when the earth has been doing this for 10, 000 years on a slower rate it really makes sense. And for a state like Arizona that is almost solely dependant on ground water it works quite well. The other problem Artificial Recharge fixes is that of keeping the ground water levels up. Without refilling these aquifers, wells would go dry. For the agricultural community this means great savings from not having to invest in deepening their wells (Brean).
There have been other suggestions made to conserve the water that is on the surface, mainly more efficient irrigation. With something as simple as cutting or conserving seven percent of the agricultural irrigation we could double the available water supply for the twenty-three million people it serves. Living rivers. org says, "Implementing more water-efficient irrigation practices could free up as much as five million acre feet a year, enough to satisfy the projected growth over the next 150 years, about the time the Glen Canyon Dam will have to be decommissioned anyway because of sediment deposition (Living)." Sediment In the beginning it was known that sediment would be a problem eventually with Glen Canyon Dam. It was known that it would take over 500 years for the dam to completely fill up with sediment, but the bigger problem was when would it obstruct the in-flow ducts for the outlet of water.
Sediment is caused by the rock and ground the Colorado River runs through. The bed rock for the river is that of sandstone mostly. This means that as the river flows it takes the sand and dirt with it. In other rivers it works the same way but not on such a grand scale. Since the ground is so soft, it brings the sediment down river.
During high water years this sediment deposition is even more significant. Not only does this present a problem for the dam, it also means it takes up space. The space the sediment takes up, has big effects down river. The Grand Canyon has been suffering from lack of sand for its beaches since the beginning of the construction process. This adversely has had many effects on the environment. If the river were to run free, the main channel would be washed free in about two to four years.
The side canyons on the other hand may not ever be back to their original state. But it has been said that with the occasional flash flood that often occurs, these canyons will slowly be rid of their sandy grave. Some of the canyons might even come back with the return of the river's main course due to their position in the drainage basin (Living). Studies were done by the government which showed the problems the dam would cause. The biggest concern the government had, was when the dam would need to be decommissioned. It was speculated that this would take two hundred years and we are right on schedule.
Now the problem is the protection of the dam, due to the sediment build up, and what will be done with the electricity it brings (Living). Hydroelectricity Do we really need the power Glen Canyon Dam generates? Glen Canyon Dam generates 1, 300 mega watts of electricity when it is fully operational. That is enough electricity for 350, 000 homes. But is that a relevant fact since the government is decommissioning four major dams on the Snake River, which provided 2. 5 times the electricity the dam does at full capacity? No. Glen Canyon Dam provides electricity for six states around itself, but out of those six states it only supplies about three percent of their total power (Living).
So often the thought of a dam is electricity, but as we have seen, Lake Powell clearly is more useful in providing water. In the past five years, the drought has steadily drained the lake to forty percent and that has had a huge effect on the ability to generating power. The Denver Post said, "this has slashed the dam's generating capacity by some 30 percent." Hydrologists have said that if there is a continuation of the drought, that hydroelectric power could be eliminated in five years. Even sooner if we have one year like 2002, or two more years like that of 2004 (Stein).
Environment Lake Powell has had a dramatic effect on its canyons that have been covered up. There have been 180 miles of the Colorado River that have over flowed its banks because of Glen Canyon Dam. It was once the heart of Canyonlands, and some say it has affected the area forever. There were once groves of cottonwood trees in its canyons and all kinds of wildlife there also. Since the beginning of the drought we have seen a marvelous come back. The New York Times said, "At the confluence of Coyote Creek and Escalante River, where boaters once motored by to see famous rock formations, backpackers now pick their way up a shallow river channel.
Fifteen-foot high cottonwoods grow amid thickets of willow, gamble oak and tamarisk. Where fish thrived, mountain lions prowl (Blakeslee)." The sandstone that has held Lake Powell, has acted like a sponge for the last thirty years. Where the water has already receded, there are now seeps that are forming all over. These springs are feeding the vegetation and the wildlife. The vegetation is also getting help from the nutrient rich soil that has been left behind. For this reason there has been a steady influx in the growth of these desert-growing plants.
The wildlife is also having a come back as stated above there has already been an influx in insect population, which triggers a chain reaction for other species all the way up to land mammals (Blakeslee). The fish population also has had a dramatic change with the dam's existence. There were once Colorado Pike Minnows, formerly known as Squaw fish that measured up to eight feet long. Their spawning grounds were even more amazing than the fact there were once fish that big in the Colorado River. The Colorado Pikeminnow was generally born in the Pacific Ocean and traveled all the way to the head waters of the Green and Colorado Rivers. These fish are almost extinct now because of the lack of gravel bars along the river for them to lay their eggs.
The Colorado Pikeminnow is not the only endangered species in the river; the Razorback Sucker, Humpback and Boney tail Chub are on the verge of extinction as well. Opposition The canyon is coming back very quickly. This only feeds the fires that eco-activists need to promote their cause. Not mention the fact that the dam was built a decade before the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act. All of these would have affected the building of the Glen Canyon Dam.
For the debate over the dam the Sierra Club really stepped up to the plate. There were other proposals for dams that were defeated. The largest amount of effort went into saving Echo Park. These dam proposals were the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The two most recognized people who were against the dams being built, were Edward Abbey and David Brower.
Abbey was not only an activist as mentioned prior. He was a free thinker and doer of what he pleased. He took his personal motto from a fellow nature lover, Walt Whitman "resist much, obey little." Abbey was constantly on the top of the FBI's closely watched file for eco-terrorism. He was never convicted for any of his actions but evoked the thoughts in others through the course of his writings (Abbey).
David Brower has spent the last forty years advocating the restoration of Glen Canyon. While he was the director of the Sierra Club, he had pushed the idea out of congress of using Echo Park. But after he had seen Glen Canyon he said, "When I saw the glen I realized our mistake." He now is battling cancer and still fighting for the restoration of Glen canyon. Conclusion As we have seen there are many points on both sides of the debate with Lake Powell. It all comes down to three main factors; water recreation, environmental issues and water resources. The first two are merely for which side you are on, whether it be for the environment or you have a house boat on the lake.
The real issue is the water. The hard facts are there is only so much we can do and nature has to do the rest. The prospect of high water years is highly unlikely and there are more than enough ways to conserve the water. Which ever way it goes we will be with out the dam sooner or later. The reservoir will be drained and it is up to the individual person how they will look at it. You can either be glad that it has beauty to be explored once again or you can blame it on others you no longer have a place to use your houseboat.
Works Cited Abbey, Edward. The Monkey Wrench Gang. New York: New York, 2000 Blakeslee, Sandra. "Drought Unearths a Buried Treasure." New York Times (Late Edition (East Coast) ). Nov 2, 2004.
p. F. 1 Brean, Henry. "Local providers have been socking away water since 1987" Las Vegas Review Journal Oct. 10, 2004 Booth, William. "As Lake Falls, Glen Canyon Rises Anew; Some See Chance to Get Rid of Dam; [FINAL Edition]." The Washington Post April 27, 2003: p.
A. 01 Living Rivers. web Mike. "Changing course 37 years after Glen Canyon Dam was built, some want it removed; [Rockies Edition]." Denver Post Mar 19, 2000: p.
A. 01 Stein, Theo. "Drought draining power Falling water levels at Lake Powell threaten electricity-generating capacity for several Western states. ; [Final Edition]." Denver Post Jul 5, 2004: p.