September 16, 2015

Lake Powell is Burning

By Clark Frauenglass
Glen Canyon Dam/ Lake Powell
August 31, 2015

The day started with the strangest tour I’ve ever been on. Glen Canyon Dam is like a cross between a children’s museum, and a tightly run government facility. Armed security guards stood out against a backdrop of brightly colored maps, vintage camping gear, and inspirational quotes from famous river runners, invoking the spirit of adventure, and praising the beauty and power of the river. The tour itself was a tight 45 minute experience, rushing from one educational sign to the next, accompanied by a constant stream of facts, numbers, and overly scripted praise for the wonders of hydropower. Questions about security were prohibited, as were photographs of the guards. Our guide was constantly calling for us to catch up and move faster as we stopped to sketch or take photos. She said we had to make room for other tour groups coming up behind us, but there was room enough for at least 5 groups our size to pass through at the same time.

Back at the campsite I headed down to join the boaters and tourists flocking to the man made beach, only to be assaulted by the smell of gasoline as I crested the hill and looked down on the shore. A substantial fuel spill from an unidentified boat had covered the surface of the lake in rainbow patterns, prompting the closure of the beach. On top of that, a congealed yellow sludge had washed up along the shore, and there had been reports of it sticking to peoples’ skin, prompting security to call in a botanist. The security guard in charge of closing the beach was thoroughly fed up and wandered off grumbling about posting signs in as many languages as he could think of. I grudgingly went for a swim in the resort pool instead.

That night we watched the film Damnation, which takes a critical view of our countries obsession with dams, and hydropower as a so-called “renewable resource”. The film focuses on the damage dams have done to the ecosystems of our rivers, and the devastating consequences they’ve had for migratory fish populations. There were also video clips and photos of the area now covered by Lake Powell’s dead water. Miles and miles of beautiful hidden canyons and secrets, now buried in silt. One man interviewed dismissed the destruction, saying (paraphrase) “yeah, we flushed out a few prairie dogs and such, nothing important, and we made the place accessible to people, we provided people with water and power to create whole cities!”

Accessible to who? Tourist in yachts? And if you couldn’t build a city before the dam, should you really build there?

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