Water-use saga: The return of Glen Canyon
After a beautiful landscape reemerged, a new plan for Lake Powell water usage has taken shape.
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He hasn’t read McGivney’s book and therefore doesn’t want to take issue with its author, but notes that the 1922 Colorado River Compact governs how much water states can receive from the river, with the upper basin states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming obliged to meet a certain amount of the needs of the lower basin states – Arizona, California, and Nevada. (Currently, the upper basin states consume slightly more than half their allotment, while the lower basin states consume 110 percent of theirs.)Skip to next paragraph
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However, in light of the effects of the drought, a new agreement – the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lakes Powell and Mead – has been finalized after an 18-month study. It covers water planning through 2026 – from agricultural use to recreation.
The research done by Rajagopalan’s team considered “a couple of different demand management and reservoir operation alternatives that can help mitigate increased risk for water supply due to demand growth and flow reduction due to climate change,” he says.
These will be given to the Bureau of Reclamation for consideration. But however it finally deals with the drought, McGivney argues in an interview that people who live in the desert should “embrace the fact that [they] live in a desert.” They should stop living like “the way people in Kentucky live,” as though rainfall is abundant.
These changes in attitude could “lead to a different set of values that guide people” in how they utilize scarce water resources, she says.
The Sierra Club and other organizations have called for the draining of Glen Canyon.
Both McGivney and Kay argue for a regulated water flow from Glen Canyon Dam, keeping Lake Powell around one-third to one-half full. This would allow city water needs to be met and the side canyons to recover, but still permit continued recreational use.
As Kay puts it, “You can go out there and jet-ski, and motorboat, or water-ski, and do whatever you want ... and you can also hike in the side canyons,” because even at half capacity, there’s “119 square miles [of water] still there.”
That vision isn’t likely to become reality quickly, however.
As Mr. Wirth notes, only Congress can change the way the Bureau of Reclamation regulates Glen Canyon Dam. And the lower basin states have more than three times the politicians in Congress than the upper basin states.
Also, should the drought recede and the policy not be changed, the canyons will flood again.
But those who have witnessed the “return” of much of Glen Canyon are holding out hope that it may be permanent. Indeed, since the early 2005 low, Lake Powell has risen to about 50 to 60 percent of capacity, submerging many of the side canyons once again. But since the lake is not full — and may not be full for some time — some of the canyons are still accessible for exploration.
Perhaps Lee says it best, talking about why she fell in love with the area in the 1950s: “You begin to talk to a place like that and it talks back to you.”
Now, the cottonwoods are returning, petroglyphs are exposed, and orange sedimentary canyons glow in the sunset. Glen Canyon is talking back.