Billions of Gallons

August 31, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi

Side view of Glen Canyon Dam curving towards us. Lake water level is low. 
It appears to be an unstoppable, incomprehensible force. It goes where it will, when it wants;there is scant evidence of organization or control. Great stone-faced monoliths direct it aimlessly to and fro. Roaring along, it creates its own path, pushing all aside. Side canyons pour their tumult into it, each beginning somewhere far beyond one's sight. It is our economically-generated civilization, and it runs faster all the time.

Back in 1963, it built an awesome dam at the head of Glen Canyon, backing the Colorado River up for 200 miles, creating Lake Powell. Power, control, and recreation were promised to residents of the southwest. In a new and different century, we're taking a second look. Now drained to less than half its capacity, the dam costs millions to run while generating far less power for us. The sediment that once made the rapids in Grand Canyon into chocolate monsters is swiftly building up toward the surface of the lake. Worse, 160 billion gallons of water evaporate from Lake Powell every year, and estimates are that 120 billion gallons leak out through the porous limestones below.

A proposition to decommission the dam, leave it but let the river run free through it, then capture it downstream in Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, is being debated. Lake Mead as well is only 37% full. And it doesn't leak the way Glen Canyon does. Sounds like a win-win situation from here. A courageous attempt, like the project to restore the Everglades, that turns back time for the benefit of both man AND nature.

Negative thoughts seem to center only on the political difficulties, of which there will be many. But evidence now shows that the past few centuries, in which we 'tamed' and developed the West, were among the wettest in history, giving us a falsely optimistic view of the way we could conquer the water issues here. Ask the Anasazi. A pessimist would point out that in the long run, all this fussing with dams will be just a drop in the bucket, pun intended. I disagree though;we are at our best when taking decisive action to do the right thing.

The amount of water currently wasted annually is enough to supply Los Angeles for that year. Los Angeles, of course, has its own leakage problems to deal with. A vast sum of money is needed to fix all this infrastructure, but where will it come from when we must spend so much on self-defense? Many answer: grow the economy –but that's what got us into this problem in the first place. Bottom line, though, seems to be –before long we'll be doing SOMETHING, like it or not. And it'll only get harder.

Let's do it. It will revive Glen Canyon, turn it back into a gem worthy of being its own National Park. It will return the inner Grand Canyon to the way water and time originally created it. The Dam will still be there, now with space behind it to refill if desperately needed someday. And it will fill Lake Mead again - making twice the water available as there is today for the thirsty Southwest. I know there will be engineering problems downstream too complex to follow up here, but in order to see beyond our own little kingdoms and find consensus, look hard at these rocks. We will all be just one more layer of sandstone or limestone in some far future anyway.

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This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource. These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016

Last updated: August 31, 2016

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