Climate change, both short term or in the long run, can exact changes on the landscape. Native wildlife can vanish, non-native species can arrive, things we have come to know over a lifetime of visits can be transformed, if not made to disappear altogether.
How we react to these changes can have significant impacts, as well as be telling as to our overall stewardship of the land.
At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area the ongoing drought has revealed fascinating canyon-country landscapes that long have been inundated by Lake Powell. Cathedral in the Desert, said to be one of Edward Abbey's favorite haunts, has reappeared, drawing Abbeyites and the curious.
While there have been long-running efforts to drain the lake entirely, they have been staved off and today Lake Powell is one of the Southwest's premier boating areas. But in recent years the regional drought has lowered Lake Powell. While that has opened up some fascinating canyon landscapes that had been under water, the drought also has created some logistical problems for boaters.
For years, you see, boaters have used the so-called "Castle Rock Cut" to shorten a 12-mile trip when heading to and from the Wahweap Marina to such areas as Rainbow Bridge, Padre Bay, and Warm Creek Bay. However, that shortcut is only possible when Lake Powell is at an elevation of 3,620 feet; currently the lake is right around 3,600 feet. Boaters have not been able to use the cut since the 2003 season, and in recent years they've been asking the Park Service to deepen the cut.
So how can this problem be solved? Well, NRA officials are thinking of digging the cut even deeper than it is, a solution last resorted to in 1992 when it was deepened by about 8 feet. Before that, the cut was dug deeper back in the 1970s. The current proposal -- which doesn't yet have a price tag attached -- is to dig another 15 feet deeper along a half-mile-long section of the cut. This slice also would be about 80 feet wide.
But perhaps a more important question that should be considered is, "Should the cut be deepened?" Is this how we should respond to climate change, or long-term drought, by just digging a little deeper? Have we become so omnipotent in our environmental stewardship that we haven't been confronted by a problem we couldn't engineer a solution to?
For now, the Park Service is getting ready to prepare an environmental assessment that will analyze the potential impacts of digging the cut deeper on the area’s natural and cultural resources and the quality of visitors’ experience.
To help the agency prepare that EA, the public is being invited to submit suggestions on how the situation with the Castle Rock Cut can best be addressed and what issues and alternatives the EA should consider. You can forward your thoughts to the Park Service online at this site or by mailing them at Castle Rock Cut EA, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, P.O. Box 1507, Page, AZ, 86040.
Scoping comments must be received by December 4. Once the draft EA is prepared later this winter there will be another public comment period.