Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monkey Wrench Gang - Glen Canyon Dam

Near the beginning of Monkey Wrench Gang, Seldom Seen Smith kneels on top of the Glen Canyon Dam, and says:
Dear old God, ... you know and I know what it was like here, before them bastards from Washington moved in and ruined it all. You remember the river, how fat and golden it was in June, when the big runoff came down from the Rockies? Remember the deer on the sandbars and the the blue herons in the willows and the catfish so big and tasty and how they'd bite on spoiled salami? Remember that crick that came down through Bridge Canyon and Forbidden Canyon, how green and cool and clear it was?... There's something you can do for me, God. How about a little old pre-cision-type earthquake right under this dam?
The existance of the Glen Canyon Dam is a prime example of the disconnect between environmental activism and the Wise Use movement.

The historic major players in the Glen Canyon Dam controversy are David Brower, who was Executive Director of the Sierra Club in the 1950s, Floyd Dominy who was the commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 through 1969, Ken Sleight, who inspired the character of Seldom Seen Smith, and more recently, Richard Ingebretsen, founder of the Glen Canyon Institute, which advocates leaving the dam standing, but draining Lake Powell and allowing the Colorado River to flow freely through the Dam.

Construction on Glen Canyon Dam started in 1956. It was completed in 1964. The reason for the dam was nominally to Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico - all UPstream from the dam. Floyd Dominy states he built the dam to control the Colorado River's uncontrollable flooding - 2o years after Hoover Dam was completed, which effectively controlled the downriver Colorado flooding. Glen Canyon Dam does have an effective hydroelectric plant. Most of the output from Glen Canyon Dam could be carried by other generating plants in the southwest.

What could not be carried other places is the existance of Lake Powell. Powell generates enormous tourist income. Page Arizona would not exist without Lake Powell. Page was built to house the dam construction workers. Unlike other "company towns" like Boulder City NV, there is no other local economy. If the lake goes, Page (for all intents and purposes) goes.

Glen Canyon Dam also has significant structural defects. In 1983, there was a frightening incident that left people afraid the dam would fail. The Bureau of Reclamation repaired the dam, but the rumor persists.

PBS did a documentary on Glen Canyon. The site includes interviews with David Brower, Floyd Dominy and others. It also has a lot of information about the dam, the location, and the issues.

How do you choose? Keep the dam, the electric output, the recreational resources? Or drain the lake and restore the beauty of Glen Canyon?

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