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Glen Canyon NRA Officials Thinking Of Digging For Water


Dropping levels of Lake Powell are making it harder to get to and from Wahweap Marina. Friends of Lake Powell Photo.

Climate change, both short term or in the long run, can exact changes on the landscape. Native wildlife can vanish, non-native species can arrive, things we have come to know over a lifetime of visits can be transformed, if not made to disappear altogether.

How we react to these changes can have significant impacts, as well as be telling as to our overall stewardship of the land.

At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area the ongoing drought has revealed fascinating canyon-country landscapes that long have been inundated by Lake Powell. Cathedral in the Desert, said to be one of Edward Abbey's favorite haunts, has reappeared, drawing Abbeyites and the curious.

While there have been long-running efforts to drain the lake entirely, they have been staved off and today Lake Powell is one of the Southwest's premier boating areas. But in recent years the regional drought has lowered Lake Powell. While that has opened up some fascinating canyon landscapes that had been under water, the drought also has created some logistical problems for boaters.

For years, you see, boaters have used the so-called "Castle Rock Cut" to shorten a 12-mile trip when heading to and from the Wahweap Marina to such areas as Rainbow Bridge, Padre Bay, and Warm Creek Bay. However, that shortcut is only possible when Lake Powell is at an elevation of 3,620 feet; currently the lake is right around 3,600 feet. Boaters have not been able to use the cut since the 2003 season, and in recent years they've been asking the Park Service to deepen the cut.

So how can this problem be solved? Well, NRA officials are thinking of digging the cut even deeper than it is, a solution last resorted to in 1992 when it was deepened by about 8 feet. Before that, the cut was dug deeper back in the 1970s. The current proposal -- which doesn't yet have a price tag attached -- is to dig another 15 feet deeper along a half-mile-long section of the cut. This slice also would be about 80 feet wide.

But perhaps a more important question that should be considered is, "Should the cut be deepened?" Is this how we should respond to climate change, or long-term drought, by just digging a little deeper? Have we become so omnipotent in our environmental stewardship that we haven't been confronted by a problem we couldn't engineer a solution to?

For now, the Park Service is getting ready to prepare an environmental assessment that will analyze the potential impacts of digging the cut deeper on the area’s natural and cultural resources and the quality of visitors’ experience.

To help the agency prepare that EA, the public is being invited to submit suggestions on how the situation with the Castle Rock Cut can best be addressed and what issues and alternatives the EA should consider. You can forward your thoughts to the Park Service online at this site or by mailing them at Castle Rock Cut EA, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, P.O. Box 1507, Page, AZ, 86040.

Scoping comments must be received by December 4. Once the draft EA is prepared later this winter there will be another public comment period.


I can't find the word preservation in the Organic Act. Though I do find words such as "conserve" and "promote the use of."

That's because from the draft to the official act, the word "preserve" was changed to "conserve", a largely rhetorical change. The act also mandates leaving parks "unimpaired" without any details of what "unimpaired" looks like.

The Organic Act has failed on many accounts; it was not based on science or research; it was bent to satisfy the demands of the railroad and burgeoning tourism industry.

The problems of today's NPS result directly from its past. Preservation was the core reason for establishment, but it wasn't interpreted as environmental protection.

It's time for a major revision or a new charter that mandates environmental protection, that uses the term "preservation" rather than "conservation", is based on scientific research, and provides environmental protection.

National Recreation Areas need not apply for membership.

I say, parks are for enjoyment not preservation. I say, conservation is exactly the right word. I say, "wilderness" is wilderness; a park should be just that "a park." I say, science and research are also institutions which have a history of being "antiquated, fundamentally flawed, and needs constant revision."

I say, we can define "unimpaired" until the glaciers return but it still won't resolve these issues.

I say, providing for human enjoyment is a profound and beautiful mandate. And if protecting the environment also provides for human enjoyment, it is even the more sublime.

Below I've reposted my earlier comments on this Organic Act matter.

"Frank and I have disagreed on this before.

But I still insist that the Organic Act has not failed. Yes, it is a paradox to conserve, promote the use of, and provide enjoyment for while leaving unimpaired. Yes, in order to fulfill such a mandate requires leaders possessing intellect, insight, and courage that the current NPS may not have or nuture. Yes, the NPS fails in small and not so small ways every day. But, all in all, the NPS has suceeded in its mandate by keeping the parks unimpaired enough to continue to provide for the enjoyment of billions of people over the last 150+ years. I don't buy into this doom and gloom scenario.

The Organic Act is not "antiquated, fundamentally flawed, and needs extensive revision" any more than the Constitution of the United States is "antiquated, fundamentally flawed, and needs extensive revision."

Hell, if anything's antiquated, it's evoking Edward Abbey. "

science and research are also institutions which have a history of being "antiquated, fundamentally flawed, and needs constant revision

Are you just attempting to throw off my blood sugar Haunted Hiker?

I'll agree with your final premise, that science, ALL diciplines of the sciences, are subject to a constant state of revision. That's what good science is, hypothesis continually being subjected to experimental review, and modifications to current "conventional wisdom" mind-sets due to evidence collected by good design, execution and analysis. Science is subject to an ongoing, evolving process, and is the sum of knowledge gained through the course of mankind's thinking abount, reacting to, and exploring his environment. Due to the data collected by a series of good scientific practices, we now know that a) the world isn't really flat after all, b) the Earth really isn't the center of the known universe, c) you can't kill microorganisms by freezing them, at any temperature, for any length of time, d) life doesn't "spontaneously generate", e) certain chemical reactions give off heat which can be harnessed for multiple purposes, while others require an influx of energy to initiate an reaction, f) the controlled splitting of an atom releases copious amounts of raw energy, get the point I'm sure. But the claim that these institutions have a history of being antiquated and fundamentally flawed, well, you've got the burden of proof on your side if you intend to make those accusations stick. Antiquated indeed.......absolutely NOTHING in our lifetimes has advanced faster than the quality of our lives derived directly from the knowledge brought forth by the sciences except our ignorance of the environment and our general arrogance as a species. Common, everyday mundane items such as microwaves, freezers, radio, CD/DVD's, analog and digital recording devices, computers, automobiles, healthier crops and a wider variety of them, synthetic clothing materials, plastic, rubber, steel, glass, procelain, air conditioning, jet and space travel, the advances to mankind's life directly accountable to the various sciences is almost endless. Not that all of these advances qualify as good......plastics are a blight on the environment, but without them, the cost of protecting and transporting goods would literally skyrocket. Microwaves are a truly useless innovation, originally intended solely as a method by which to rapidly increase the rate of motion in water molecules. Synthetic fibers are tear and wear resistant, color fast, but highly flammable and not really cost effective, but it saves the environment from the stresses of producing cotton. Automobiles? Don't even go there. Aviation brought the world closer together, so now we can fight about trivial things at incredible rates. But to write off the sciences as ANTIQUATED is absurd.

One can "say" lots of things, but what you've said isn't backed up by the history of the Organic Act, the history of national parks, the history of the NPS. It's pure pontification. (For more on the history of the above, please see Sellars' Preserving Nature in the National Parks.)

Also, research is not an institution; it's a process or a product. While I think about it, science itself isn't an institution; it is a systematic process for determining what is knowledge and what is not. Lone Hiker has done enough to show the absurdity of such assertions.

Finally, Abbey's ideas are anything but antiquated (i.e. obsolete); were they antiquated, national parks wouldn't be limiting auto traffic in places like Zion. No, I'd say that Abbey's ideas are highly relevant today more than ever.

Thanks HH for engaging me; I hope you see that I'm attacking your ideas and your assertions, not you personally. I think you're grrrreat!

Moving some dirt and rocks around the bottom of the lake is not such a big deal. Doing so will save it's total cost probably in the first year. When the drought ends, (which it can in a single year), it's all covered with water anyway. Safety is also a major concern and such is a major concern for the NRA managers, the NPS. Dredging this small cut will wave lives, property, trauma, lawsuits and peoples investments in THEIR chosen method of recreating.

As to the issues about NP's vs. NRA's and their joint management by the NPS. Well quite frankly a National Recreation Area is NOT a National Park! They should have very different management goals and the personel staffed at Rec areas should have a different mindset than what the NPS system provides. I think the Dept of Interior should create another division specifically aimed at managing rec areas and staffed with like minded people as well. They are different and require a different point of view in their management. (Yeah I said that twice)!

For you science and history lovers, May I recommend reading "Forbidden History" by J. Douglas Kenyon.

I agree with RRR's comments concerning safety, and economics ( saving money, time, and lives). There are more people using Lake Powell, on a yearly basis than all the wilderness areas of the whole west combined! I wish they would build more dam's up and down the Colorado River, not only for the recreational value, but for power generation that is clean and renewable. It would allow the dismantling of many filthy coal fired generating plants. As for the humpback chub, I say let them go the way of the carrier pigeon, and doddo bird. None of us will miss them.

There are arguments on both sides of this fence...but one thing cannot be ignored by either side. The proposed Castle Rock Cut would SAVE LIVES!! That is one point that cannot be argued or ignored in all of this. Lives are lost each year by boaters having to navigate the "Narrows" at Lake Powell. Opening the cut would alleviate this problem. Not to mention enhancing the efforts of rescue operations at the lake. You cannot put a pricetag on human life.

Whoa there Lone Hiker, I sure didn't mean to send you into Diabetic Ketoacidosis! But I sure love to get a man's blood boiling.

Read carefully, I said science has a "history" of being "flawed." My point being that it doesn't provide all the answers and many of its conclusions become obsolete. I would never write off science, but I wouldn't but all my eggs in its basket either.

Besides, weren't you the one who brought up the very lovely point that art and aesthetics can play a role in planning that, at times, can rival the practicality of scientific facts?

I have doubts that science is capable a defining "unimpaired" because there really is no such thing. It's a human idea more than it is a quantifiable goal.

Sorry Frank, I love you too. But even if Edward Abbey's ideas aren't antiquated, quoting him to make a point about preserving the environment is.

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