Water-use saga: The return of Glen Canyon
After a beautiful landscape reemerged, a new plan for Lake Powell water usage has taken shape.
(Page 2 of 3)
When Kay discovered the lake’s plummeting levels, he put on his backpack, grabbed his camera, and, along with Ms. McGivney, documented a “resurrection” of Glen Canyon over a period of five years, hiking areas untouched by humans for decades.Skip to next paragraph
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McGivney notes how she felt: “I’m like an explorer going into a place that has never been charted before.”
At one point, Kay trekked to Cathedral of the Desert, which was no longer submerged, and “spent six hours in there photographing it as the light changed and the sun moved through the canyon. It was one of the most profound days of my life.”
McGivney remembers “walking 100 feet below the high-water mark” in a canyon “so narrow you could touch [the walls with] both hands.” Looking up, she noticed pink and purple colors high up on the wall, “and I realized it was the paint of jet skis [that] had gotten stuck in this narrow” before the drought.
Kay and McGivney documented their expeditions in “Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West.”
“It’s not just about Glen Canyon,” McGivney says in an interview at a recent book signing. “It’s about everybody in the West and how we live.”
The book champions the idea that environmentalists and Western water managers can make better decisions:
“Lake Powell is half full, and Lake Mead is half full,” McGivney says. “You’ve got two giant reservoirs evaporating massive amounts of water” into the desert air. “If you send all the water from Lake Powell – or most of it – into Lake Mead and fill Lake Mead, then you would cut that evaporation loss in half,” an amount, she believes, that’s enough to meet the water needs of Las Vegas.
Balaji Rajagopalan, lead researcher of a study to be published by Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, agrees with McGivney up to a point. He calls her idea “low-hanging fruit” that could “mitigate water supply risk.” But stressing water preservation over the preservation of nature, Dr. Rajagopalan suggests that it would be more logical to “store more water in Lake Powell, as it is at a higher elevation/latitude relative to Lake Mead and thus will have less evaporation.”
Other scientists bring up the possibility that global warming could increase the drought in the Colorado River Basin area, greatly lessening the river’s flow and affecting the reservoir system if water management practices aren’t changed.
In “Resurrection,” McGivney argues that Lake Powell is really a “holding tank” for large agribusinesses: “80 percent of that is sucked up by agriculture [growing] water-intensive crops like alfalfa, hay, and cotton that are grown not to satisfy market demand but to take advantage of a tangled web of subsidies and tax breaks,” she writes.
That makes the issue a political one.
Barry Wirth, regional public-affairs officer of the US Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado Region, insists that Glen Canyon’s water management isn’t political, but governed by law.