When life gives us a prolonged drought, we can get something good and profitable out of it.
“Gentlemen, you are building up a legacy of conflict and litigation over water rights, because there is not enough water to supply the earth.”
– John Wesley Powell, 1883
He warned us.
The naturalist, explorer, and Civil War veteran who explored the course of the Colorado River so thoroughly in 1869 marked enough that a lake made of that river, the one now below Glen Canyon Dam, was named after him.
But Major Powell would not be at all surprised, or offended if he found out that his namesake tank was to go missing. That it had to be sacrificed to the naturally dry conditions of the American Southwest, a population and agricultural boom in seven states, and record drought that we must accept as the new normal.
Lake Powell, straddling the Utah-Arizona border, is only a quarter full. There is every reason to expect it to continue shrinking until, very soon, it reaches the ominously called “dead pool”. Not the X-Man ersatz, but a level too shallow to generate electricity or supply water to towns and native settlements in the area.
Experts and activists have long argued that Lake Powell should be sacrificed so that most of its water can flow downstream to preserve Lake Mead, its larger and more crucial twin reservoir near Las Vegas. This adds to environmentalist arguments that it should never have been created in the first place.
The United States Bureau of Reclamation has given the seven states that benefit from the waters of the Colorado River – Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the upper basin, Nevada, Arizona and California in the lower basin – until August 15 to find a way to drastically reduce their water usage or ask the federal government to do it for them.
This deadline has come and gone and the office is still considering the matter. Which is understandable, if not quite helpful, as there doesn’t seem to be a simple solution. It is certainly unlikely that one can find a course of action that does not make a state or a group of states feel that they have been treated unfairly.
One option being considered, by some environmental groups and possibly federal officials, is to drill new tunnels near the base of the Glen Canyon Dam so that the water in Lake Powell can drain away. through the Grand Canyon, as it has done for millions of years, to reinforce Lake Mead.
Utah must prepare for two distinct possibilities. Either the United States will give up and drain Lake Powell, or Mother Nature will. Our state’s power to oppose either is slim at best.
One thing Utah could do to prove that it is aware of the situation and that its opinions are worth considering would be to officially abandon the absurd $ 2 billion (or much more) plan for build a pipeline from Lake Powell to the rapidly growing St. George area. of southwestern Utah.
It’s less about whether St. George needs or deserves the water, or whether it should take a conservation approach to its needs, as it’s the fact that Lake Powell simply won’t have not enough water to justify the cost of such a pipeline.
Debating the value or desirability of Lake Powell as a powerhouse, water storage and flood control structure, or recreational destination quickly becomes a waste of time, energy, and unnecessary money. It is crucial to plan for what might happen next, which will also take time, energy and money.
One thing we do know is that Utah, already home to five proud and financially rewarded national parks, could use another.
The ones we have – Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches – contribute significantly to our state’s economy. But the Mighty Five, as they’re called, draw so many visitors that sometimes we just don’t know where to put them all. Traffic can be a grunt. Some popular and sensitive areas now require reservations. Entire regions are, as they say, in danger of being loved to death.
A new Glen Canyon National Park could relieve much of the stress on other parks, while boosting the local economy. This is after all an area already oriented towards welcoming visitors and it would greatly benefit from no longer having to worry about whether the water level next summer will reach the boat launches. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)
As Tribune reporter Zak Podmore explained in the Salt Lake Tribune this week, Glen Canyon’s natural ecosystems are already showing signs of natural rebirth, brought about by the receding waters of Lake Powell. There are reappearing natural wonders and artifacts left behind by Native American settlements that could, if properly managed, form the core of a natural wonder that Utah could be proud of, rain or shine, for generations to come.
All we have to do is learn to work with nature rather than against it.