November 2, 2004: Lake Powell Shrinks

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

November 2, 2004New York Times headline– Drought Unearths a Buried Treasure. “Escalante, Utah – In the early 1960′s, the nation’s environmental movement cut its baby teeth on a fierce battle to stop construction of dams along the Colorado River. Two proposed dams were never built, but Glen Canyon dam, located in an unprotected area, was completed in 1963. Over the next 17 years, water backed up for 186 miles, forming Lake Powell and inundating Glen Canyon and hundreds of miles of side canyons.

The defeat was deeply felt. David Brower, who was executive director of the Sierra Club, called the death of Glen Canyon the greatest disappointment of his life. Edward Abbey, the mischievous author and defender of the natural world, called Glen Canyon the “living heart” of the Colorado River and Lake Powell a “blue death.” He often spoke of floating a houseboat filled with explosives to the base of the dam to get rid of “Lake Foul.”

What Mr. Abbey and the Sierra Club couldn’t or didn’t do nature has now accomplished. A severe Western drought – some say the worst in 500 years – is shrinking Lake Powell at the rate of up to a foot every four days. Since 1999, the vast reservoir has lost more than 60 percent of its water.

Glen Canyon is returning. It is open and viewable in much of its former glory. At the confluence of Coyote Creek and Escalante River, where boaters once motored by to see famous rock formations, backpackers now pick their way up a shallow river channel. Fifteen-foot high cottonwoods grow amid thickets of willow, gamble oak and tamarisk. Where fish thrived, mountain lions prowl.”

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