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Middle East Bulletin

Middle East Bulletin

[Middle East Bulletin] Record Drought Reveals Stunning Changes Along Colorado River

by | 27-11-2014 03:20 Comments 3 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



LAKE POWELL, Utah—In early September, at the abandoned Piute Farms marina on a remote edge of southern Utah's Navajo reservation, we watched a ten-foot (three-meter) waterfall plunging off what used to be the end of the San Juan River.

Until 1990, this point marked the smooth confluence of the river with Lake Powell, one of the largest reservoirs in the U.S. But the lake has shrunk so much due to the recent drought that this waterfall has emerged, with sandy water as thick as a milkshake.

My partner DeEdda McLean and I had come to this area west of Mexican Hat, Utah, to kayak acrossLake Powell, a reservoir formed by the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado Rivers and the holding power of Glen Canyon Dam, which lies just over the border in Arizona. Yet in place of a majestic reservoir, we saw only the thin ribbon of a reemergent river channel, which had been inundated for most of the past three decades by the lake. We called this new channel the San Powell, combining the name of the river and the lake.

Map of the Lake Mead and Lake Powell regions.
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We had also come to see firsthand how drought is changing the landscapes of the desert Southwest. Here, judging by the lack of conservation reform, water has seemed to be largely taken for granted. But our recent float suggests that profound changes may be in store for the region. (See "The American Nile.")

Sweating in the desert heat, we loaded our 15-foot (5-meter) kayaks with two weeks' worth of food and ten gallons of water—enough to last us two days. Drinking from the silty river or fecal-contaminated areas of Lake Powell frequented by houseboats was not an option (Glen Canyon Recreation Area, which includes the reservoir, is visited by more than two million people a year). The contours of our journey—where we camped, our hiking destinations, and how far we paddled each day—would be defined by the need to find potable springs.

Like bicyclists shunning the interstate, many kayakers have avoided Lake Powell ever since the builders of Glen Canyon Dam finished flooding 186 miles (300 kilometers) of the Colorado River Valley in 1980. The reservoir was named after John Wesley Powell, the National Geographic Society co-founder who first paddled most of the Colorado River and who later, in public office, tried to limit population growth in the arid Southwest. The dams and the enormous reservoirs that were later built in the desert would have horrified him.

Motorboaters call Powell's lake the "Jewel of the Colorado" because of its unnatural emerald hue—Glen Canyon Dam now captures the silt that used to make the Colorado, after its confluence with the San Juan, the most colorful river in the West. Paddlers call it "Lake Foul" for the noise and stench of outboard engines.


3 Comments

  • says :
    ^_^
    Posted 28-11-2014 04:44

  • says :
    It is a very helpful article
    Posted 27-11-2014 12:16

  • says :
    Thanks for sharing. :))
    Posted 27-11-2014 12:15

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