Thursday, April 2, 2015

About Time

In 2006 my sister and I booked a house boat on Lake Powell for eight days. We did this because at the time the lake created by the much protested Glen Canyon Dam was 130 below optimal level. And it had been that low for long enough that the "bathtub ring" has largely washed off. It was as close to a photographer's dream as it would get since the dam was built. Unless of course the dam was removed.

Water levels had plummeted in 2005 and the Bureau of Reclamation reported the reservoir could not sustain itself if current levels of out pour were continued. The word drought was not even whispered in those days, but a decline in the rainfall from the 1960's when the dam was designed and built had substantially declined. The Glen Canyon Dam was a farce within four decades of its construction.

When the dam was built it was supposedly to supply water and power to California. With somewhat vague promises of ending the spring flooding and providing water and power to the Ute and Navajo reservations. Its construction spawned the Sierra Club and was the inspiration for the book Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. I first became aware of the dam and its effect on the west in the 1970's when I rafted the Colorado River for the first time and the guides talked of Sunday water or Monday water as a determinate of the level of water in the river and the difficulty of rapids. Release of water from Lake Powell was determined by the need for electricity in Los Angeles.

The Utes and the Navajos never received the promised benefits of the great white wall of concrete. No water and no electricity. And as almost all the spring flooding are in tributaries below the dam it didn't do a lot for that either. The great gods of government wanted three more dams between Glen Canyon and Hoover. And all for electricity in the growing cities of California. Nor was the low my sister and I took advantage of reversed in the following years. In May 2014 Lake Powell was 42% of capacity and whole side canyons once navigable were cut off and dry. Earth Observatory by NASA has an alarming set of satellite photographs of the ever declining Lake Powell and a great write up.

Dams are not about water. They are about power. They are not about conservation. They are about abuse. Los Angeles has never reduced its need for power generated by Glen Canyon Dam even while the four western states which supply its water have cried about the worsening drought. California keeps on its lights and Phoenix still mists its sidewalks with water coming from the Colorado river after passing through Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. For decades the water taken out to green the deserts of California and Arizona and keep golf courses green, and light all the night up with lights prevented the Colorado reaching the sea. Canals were built to take its water hundreds of miles from its natural river bed.

Now at last Mexico is enforcing the treaty which says they should get some of this precious water that has been wasted. And California is talking conservation of water. REALLY? Now, when there almost no water left all because you wanted to light up office towers all night long? Only of the wasteful practices of Sodom of the west where fields are turning saline from water pumped from diminishing aquifers once filled by the Colorado River system when it was allowed to run free in its own basin instead of being routed in concrete canals.

 The Monkey Wrench Gang was right. Too bad we could not blow it up before it was finished. But the outcry from the building of the Glen Canyon dam did stop the other three planned dams. Though I hear undercurrents of talk that they are back on the drawing board to end the water crisis.

Note to world: You cannot save in dams what does not fall from the sky. And you cannot release water for your lights if there isn't any there.