While we were talking, another boat pulled up. Nine people – most of them children – went out. He looked around sadly. “We are very sad,” the group’s oldest woman, who turned out to be the children’s grandmother, told me.
He pointed to a yellow bone, about thirty feet long, hanging over the waterfall. When the surface of the lake began to fall, someone must have attached it to the rock – I couldn’t tell exactly how. It was then possible to hang from the rope and jump into the water, and the kids loved it. Now the rope has reached about half way from the waterfall and if there was any way to reach it, drowning in the pond would be fatal.
The woman’s husband, who was wearing a Lake Powell cape, seems to have become suspicious of me taking notice. He asked me if I was in favor of the pool or against it. I tried to ask a question by saying that I was a reporter. The group I was with, I admit, was definitely the opposite.
“I understand the debate,” he said. “But the number of people who enjoy or visit this place, as opposed to the number of people who don’t have water, is astronomical.”
“Every time we come to Powell Lake, it’s an adventure,” she said. “But this year it’s amazingly disappointing. It’s amazing how much the water has gone down in just one year.
Her husband said, “We are on the side of the lake that is grateful.”
Lake Powell is named after a major in the Union Army, John Wesley Powell, who lost an arm in the Battle of Shiloh. Powell served as the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey and arranged the first documented ascent of Longs Peak, now the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. But he is perhaps best known for the daring expedition he led in 1869 on the Green and Colorado rivers. In the spring of this year he set sail with nine men and four wooden boats. (One of the boats soon exploded on a rock.) As Paul and his crew explored rivers that were not yet found, they named many of the geological features they encountered. Fleming Gorge, Disaster Falls, Desert Valley. In particular, he called the punishing 45-mile river a cataract valley. After spending a week running cataract rapids, Powell and his men were relieved to find themselves floating in calm water. In his diary, Powell notes that this more calm stretch of the river offers a series of amazing views.
“These tall monuments in the past, before these cool bills of Orange Sandstone, before these oak set flowers, before these fern decked alcoves, passing through the curves of these walls, we wander for hours, now and then. Pause, as our attention has captured some new surprise, “he wrote. He called this stretch Glen Valley.
Powell spent the next several years in a government-funded survey. In 1878, he summarized his findings in the “Report on the Lands of the United States”, which was delivered to the Secretary of the Interior. In the report, Powell argued that the West should be considered almost a separate country. It doesn’t have to be – of course it can’t be built on 160-acre plots, like the Midwest did. There was not enough rain for a farm to support a family. Instead, he recommended that parcels be allocated according to a formula that takes into account their proximity to water. (Although he was deeply interested in the languages and cultures of Native Americans, Powell never questioned the idea that their lands would be turned over to white houses.) He further suggested that Western states Be organized accordingly, and take steps to ensure that the region’s scarce water resources are shared equally.
All its recommendations were ignored. The federal government has been handing out parcels of one hundred to sixty acres, many of which were fraudulently obtained by companies, who gambled on the system and amassed vast holdings. In places like the desert, cities have begun to appear, scorpions can hardly be satisfied with enough rain. Clearly, their inhabitants would have to fetch water from somewhere, and usually it was somewhere in Colorado.
Until the 1920s, there were so many claims on the river that the White House felt compelled to step in. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was sent to Santa Fe to chair the talks, which resulted in the Colorado River Compact. Finally, in the fall of 1922, the Compact divided the river at a location in northern Arizona called Le Ferry. Le Ferry with New Mexico – Colorado, Utah and the states above Wyoming became known as the Upper Basin. Collectively, these states were allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. In the lower basin – California, Arizona and Nevada also receive 7.5 million acre-feet per year, plus, as Dale Sweetner, an additional million. (Later, Mexico will be promised 1.5 million acre-feet per year.)
Compact paving – or, if you wish, lubrication – paves the way for the creation of the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Med sits behind Hoover Dam, completed in 1935, and was designed to serve the lower basin. Today, it provides virtually all the water used in Las Vegas, and in cities like San Diego and Tucson. It provides or is used to provide, when it used to irrigate more than 300,000 acres of butter, cotton and alfalfa.
Lake Powell, which serves the upper basin, does not supply water to anyone. The water from Powell flows through the Marble Valley, then through the Grand Valley and into the Mead. In that sense, Powell is a reserve for a reserve. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. In high flow periods, the mead should have plenty of water. And what’s the point of stopping Colorado on the way to Lake Med in low-flow periods?
“You can search and search and search,” wrote Matthew Grass, a Utah-based author and political advisor. But, if you want to know why Lake Powell was built, “you will never get a satisfactory answer.” When I asked Jack Schmidt, a professor at the Colorado River Studies Center at Utah State University, to explain the logic behind Powell, he laughed for about a minute. “That’s a wonderful question,” he concluded.
As I was talking to the frustrated family in the desert cathedral, another boat appeared, and then another. Because the lake was crowded and there were few places to camp, Balkan thought we should claim the place he had in mind, in a mountain valley in Escalante called Davis Gulch. When we got there we found a houseboat with a slide anchor in front of it.
We continued the valley, which was bent in sinful curves. Along the rock, parallel to the surface of the lake, spread an unbroken band of white, as a straight ruler. This band is visible wherever you go on Lake Powell. It is made up of minerals that accumulate on sandstone deposits when it was full and is exposed as soon as the water level falls. Known as the “bathtub ring”, it is now the height of freedom. As the valley narrowed, I could see that the ring was divided into two separate layers. The top layer was a brilliant white. The bottom layer was stained with millions of black dots. Balkins explained that the points were coga-missile shells. The Muslims living in the Black Sea arrived in Powell about a decade ago, probably on a visitor’s boat, and went mad. The “Kwaga Line”, as I thought of it, shows how low the lake level has fallen since the number of mussels exploded.
After a few more turns, we pulled on a red clay trick. It was noon and the heat was intense. The Balkans promised “new wonders” to anyone who wanted to expand the valley. Yang refused. The rest of us came out. Balkan estimates that we are standing on a layer of river sediment twenty or thirty feet deep, all accumulated since the creation of Lake Paul.
The wind was blowing, and somehow it was just getting warmer. We wound our way up the valley, after a crack named Davis Gulch. About half a mile from the boat, a huge opening appeared at the top of the mountain. Called La Gores Arc, it was a portal in a window or a rock, or, I thought, a blue-eyed man. Although the valley was in the shadows, the sky seen through La Gores was bright. The bathtub ring reached all the way, if it was an eye, there would be lower whips. When Paul Poole was full, Balkan said, the altar was a popular destination, and people drove up to it. “In 2019, you can still wrestle,” he recalled. This afternoon, we made room for ourselves.
As we traveled, Balkan continued to show signs of a return to life. “It’s a pleasant willow,” he said on one occasion. “It’s a cottonwood,” he said to another. Every tadpole we saw brought an approved murmur. Even a dead beaver, its deer teeth clinging to its rotting skull, seems to be pleasing the balcony.
“If you want to calculate all these canals and canals, this is the hundreds of miles of reparances that are coming back,” he said. My husband noticed that it was a bit strange to celebrate its effects, by most standards, it was considered a disaster.
“I have to admit a little bit of shady fraud,” Balkan said.
In Abby’s novel The Monkey Witch Gang, a character that Smith rarely calls Lake Powell a “blue death”. (This character was created on a real river guide named Ken Slate, who led a voyage to the Glenn Valley in the 1950s and fought to save it from food supplies. Death went beyond the Glenn Valley borders. The reservoir changed Colorado’s flow through the Grand Canyon, and it also changed its ecosystem. ۔