Will Lake Powell’s Decline Convey The Colorado River Again To Life?
By Kurt Repanshek
As every day of exploring Lake Powell by sea kayak handed, the query saved surfacing in my thoughts: was the lake dying, or Glen Canyon and the Colorado River coming again to life?
The reply appeared apparent: long-drowned aspect canyons had been slowly being revealed, thick bands of quagga mussel shells had been glued to the bathtub-ring-stained cliffs that body Lake Powell, and boat launches had been falling out of use resulting from low water ranges. Lengthy smothered by the lake, the Colorado River was reappearing on the northern finish of Glen Canyon the place it meets Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands Nationwide Park. With the dropping lake ranges, the river was regaining its channel, revealing rapids lengthy misplaced to the lake.
Right here at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon Nationwide Recreation Space, and downstream at Lake Mead in Lake Mead Nationwide Recreation Space, are maybe probably the most potent indicators of local weather change within the Nationwide Park System. Each are at troublingly low ranges. Certainly, Lake Mead has by no means been so low after filling behind the rise of Hoover Dam again within the Thirties, and Powell appears headed for a similar troubling distinction. Each have suffered from the prolonged drought that has disadvantaged the headwaters of the Colorado River of thick snowpacks that slowly launch their water in spring.
However as Joe Miczulski, whom I have been adventuring into the wilds with since third grade, and I slowly paddled north from Lake Powell’s Bullfrog Marina on our four-day tour to retrain our kayaking muscle mass after a winter of snowboarding, there have been each subtleties and stark realities that the Southwest’s long-running drought had imparted to Lake Powell’s setting.
Along with the reappearing vestiges of the Colorado River on the northern tip of the 186-mile-long reservoir, aspect canyons that had been inundated by Lake Powell at the moment are gaining again their land. As we headed into Moqui, Forgotten, Hansen, and Crystal canyons, the retreating lake waters revealed the demise throes of cottonwood timber lengthy drowned by the lake. Campfire rings that rimmed dancing flames 4 a long time in the past had been turning into archaeological artifacts greater than 100 toes above as we speak’s lake.
We stumbled on as soon as out-of-sight, and below water, coves with sand seashores now good for pitching tents out of the evident noon solar, and whereas shallows in some areas prevented powerboats from going far, our kayaks with their minimal drafts might attain farther into the canyons.
A tent oddly deserted way back and as soon as coated by the lake had resurfaced in all its muddy glory. Even a powerboat as soon as sunk had been purged from the lake waters, ready on shore to be eliminated and correctly disposed of.
What we did not see, however which quickly could be revealed within the nooks and crannies of the aspect canyons which have held elements of Lake Powell, are a number of the roughly 2,000 archaeological websites that had been catalogued earlier than the Glen Canyon Dam was commissioned in 1963, trapping the Colorado River behind its 710-foot-tall concrete face.
We could not assist however discover the contrasting settings and facets being revealed by the draining lake. Within the again attain of Hansen Creek, the shallow waters shimmered mild inexperienced as if transported from the Caribbean.
“We have seen some lovely Southwestern-themed areas, inexperienced water, blue sky, each shade of brown and beige,” Joe mentioned one night as we relaxed at our camp. “I might say the (canyons) on the east aspect had been a bit extra apocalyptic within the sense that they’d lifeless timber that due to the low water ranges had been now protruding of the water in locations. Rubble that’s now uncovered as a result of the water is so low simply had this eery really feel to it in locations. Whereas on the west aspect, after we went into Hansen Creek, that basically had the Southwest really feel to it.”
A few of that rubble had created earthen dams that trapped swimming pools of water with resident fish populations that had been doomed.
By mid-June, the Charles Corridor Ferry that usually shuttles individuals and automobiles touring Utah 276 from Bullfrog to Halls Crossing through a lake crossing had been docked indefinitely resulting from low water ranges, and not less than three boat ramps had been closed to motorized vessels, although some had been nonetheless obtainable for kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. The Citadel Rock Reduce, a shortcut that enables boaters to slice about an hour off the time to journey between the Wahweap Marina and locations uplake, was unusable.
On June 21, the lake degree elevation of three,561.35 toes was 49.64 toes under its elevation of a yr earlier, and much under the total pool elevation of greater than 3,700 toes.
For now, although, the lake continues to supply a cooling vacation spot for these in search of a reprieve from the broiling climate.
“The large houseboats with the households and the youngsters on them, the youngsters are all screaming after they handed us in our kayaks, waving at us. Simply having a grand previous time,” Joe famous.
If the drought continues, as many are predicting, will the ability producing station inside the Glen Canyon Dam fall silent? May pockets of cottonwood resprout in aspect canyons? Will the Colorado River reclaim Glen Canyon from the lake that lengthy has suffocated its supply? The solutions to these questions will go unanswered for now.
One night time as we relaxed over dinner, seven turkey vultures circled excessive above. Was it a prophetic dance they had been doing?