Here’s a report from Katie Klingsporn writing for Wyofile.com. Click through to read the whole article and for the photos. Here’s an excerpt:
May 24, 2019 was 150 years to the day after a scraggly and ill-prepared outfit led by a one-armed Army major gathered in Green River Station, beside the outpost’s namesake watercourse, and embarked on one of the most significant river expeditions America has ever seen.
On the sesquicentennial anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s historic launch, a new band of river explorers assembled at the site to begin a bold journey down the artery of the American West — the Green and Colorado Rivers.
This time, things looked starkly different. The crew, made up of academics, scientists, educators and artists from the University of Wyoming, was a far cry from the rag-tag band led by Powell. In place of the gallingly ill-suited wooden boats of Powell’s expedition, state-of-the-art 18-foot rubber rafts lined the bank. And, perhaps most notably, this crew came equipped with the tools of modern adventure such as maps, streamflow forecasts and satellite phones. These travelers were, in other words, prepared — not something Powell’s expedition had going for it as the men ventured into what was then a little-understood blank spot on the American map.
Meet UW’s Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition, which set out on that May 2019 day to follow Powell’s arduous journey. Over 70 days and some 1,000 river miles this summer, its members retraced Powell’s route and mimicked other key aspects of his expedition — like collecting scientific data. But theirs was not to be a simple journey into the past. Instead the team set out with an eye toward the future and solutions for the river system’s modern-day problems. In this way, the expedition conducted a study not only of the geology or hydrology of the Colorado River Basin, but of Western economies, policies, climate, public lands and ideologies as they relate to the overtaxed river system…
A century and a half is a mere blip in the life of the Colorado River, but much has changed in its basin since Powell’s expedition. Cities have bloomed in the desert, diversions and pipelines have been built and a complex web of regulations has been written to divvy the water to its 40 million users. What once was a large swath of unknown today encompasses five states, two basin districts, more than a dozen dams and 15 special-management areas. Add to that ever-increasing agricultural and energy development, a nearly two-decade-long drought and wild swings brought by climate change, and the picture of the Colorado River Basin is one of a riverway so overburdened it no longer reaches the sea.
It’s the river’s predicaments that prompted the SCREE trip, Minckley said. A paleo-ecologist, Minckley specializes in Western ecologies and long periods of drought. A few years ago, with the anniversary of Powell’s expedition on the horizon and the quandary of the basin’s water management fresh in his mind, he said, he began thinking about how Powell was one of the first people who took the concern of water in the West seriously…
Spring gave way to summer as the crew wended its way south and west, plunging deeper into the Earth as rock layers climbed above. There were guests aplenty, too many campfires to count, breathtaking vistas and a couple mishaps — a raft flipped in Cataract Canyon, an engine broke down during the slog across Lake Powell.
When the crew arrived at its final destination, the approximate confluence of the Virgin and Colorado rivers (now under Lake Mead) on Aug. 1, it had amassed hours of recorded conversations, pages of notes and drawings, hundreds of scientific samples, many ideas for classroom curriculum and a pile of memories from an unforgettable experience.
One thing the team did not have? The hard-and-fast answer to the Colorado Basin’s perplexing water puzzle. But, Minckley said, they’ve got a good starting place. The next step is to begin analyzing and digesting the information they gathered, while thinking about the most effective ways to move key findings into the public conversation.