Will Glen Canyon be Restored?

Boat on Lake PowellIf you had the opportunity to read last month's Park Remark book club selection, you would have read Ed Abbey's fantasy of having the Glen Canyon Dam blow up during its dedication in his book Desert Solitaire. The idea was extreme then, but Abbey saw it as the last hope of saving the stretch of the Colorado River flowing through Glen Canyon. Today that stretch is known as Lake Powell. The river disappeared in Abbey's lifetime, but there is a chance we may see it restored in our lifetimes, especially if information contained within two recent news articles holds true.

The most recent National Geographic Magazine (April 2006) describes a remarkable event in Glen Canyon last year. Because of poor snow pack in the Rockies, in the spring of 2005, Lake Powell held only 1/3 of its "full pool" capacity. Because the lake was so low, features of the canyon that had not been seen since Abbey floated the river reemerged. Take a few minutes and scan the photos on Geographic's online article, they are stunning. This year water has returned to the lake, re-covering some of the features that had surfaced during last year's low, but the water is still not even at 50% of the lake's capacity. Will we see these record lows again?

There was an article recently in the Salt Lake Tribune titled "Lake Powell may never be full again". The water stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead are incredibly important to communities down stream. So when water levels in these lakes goes down, state, local and federal governments freak out a bit. The article identifies a new agreement to keep Powell and Mead lake levels somewhat in balance with each other. This means that even if "normal" conditions return, it would take Powell a very long time to fill up again. But what is normal? Later in the article, Jon Weisheit the conservation director of the Moab-based Living Rivers organization suggests that what we believe has been a "normal" weather pattern has actually been instead very "abnormal". He says "they're concentrating on a historic record based upon the 20th century. But those who study tree rings call it the wettest century in 1,200 years. What we've lived through has been an anomaly."

So, the odds are pretty slim that Glen Canyon Dam will be coming down any time soon. But because of continued low water levels and forecasts for continued drought in the West, we may yet have the opportunity to explore the same side canyons that Abbey did during his adventures in the early 60's.

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