Jonathan Thompson: Drought, Glen Canyon Dam, climate change and God #ColoradoRiver

Glen Canyon High Flow Experiment November 2013 via Jonathan Thompson
Glen Canyon High Flow Experiment November 2013 via Jonathan Thompson

Here’s a report about Reclamation’s High Flow experiment to fix river ecology through the Grand Canyon from Jonathan Thompson writing for the High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

I can stand for hours on the vertigo-inducing bridge that spans the cold, green Colorado just downstream – a 1,000-foot long steel spiderweb suspended gracefully over a 700-foot deep void – simply trying to comprehend Glen Canyon Dam’s concrete enormity: 300 feet thick at its base, 1,500 feet long at the crest. More than that, though, is what it represents: Our effort to control what was once a muddy, wild, tumultuous river, to rein it in with a colossal concrete plug, holding back billions of gallons of water and flooding hundreds of miles of once-sublime canyons.

Glen Canyon Dam’s power to bewilder – on both sensory and conceptual levels – was enhanced this past week as massive amounts of water were released from the dam to mimic natural floods and hopefully bolster the Grand Canyon ecology and beaches that were forever altered by the dam. Call it a simulated Niagara Falls or, better yet, a several-day-long opening of one of the biggest faucets in the world – gargantuan plumbing, if you will.

I happened to be driving through Page as the big water was being released, so I parked in the dam’s visitor center parking lot, and as soon as I opened the car door I could not only hear, but could also feel the roar emanating from 800 feet below, down at the bottom of the dam, where four giant nozzles sprayed streams of white into the green water of the river, churning it all up into a violent froth. A few days earlier, about 7,000 cubic feet of water was being released from the dam each second, through the hydroelectric turbines. During the flood, that increased to 35,000 cfs, or some 13 million gallons per minute, blasting into the river via the turbines and the nozzles. It was a good time to be rafting the Grand Canyon…

If the dam’s enormity is a symbol of our ability to control nature, then the bathtub ring is an equally potent symbol of how slippery our grasp really is. It shows us how fickle our climate can be, and how our hugest efforts can merely temporarily mitigate the impacts of that fickleness. And it shows us how our very efforts to dominate the planet have gone awry, causing our already unpredictable environment to get even more wild and uncontrollable. Even the massive dam, just one piece of the huge plumbing system that we have constructed up and down the Colorado River drainage, can’t completely fix the arid truth any more than water managers’ prayers for more rain and snow next year.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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