Dams were built on breathless prose

  • Suburban pleasures along the Colorado River, 1965

    Bureau of Reclamation

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, The fight for Reclamation.

To have a deep blue lake
Where no lake was before
Seems to bring man
A little closer to God.

A sweet breeze
Across deep water
The campfire's glow
Day's end

     - From Lake Powell: Jewel of the Colorado

Thirty years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation, under forceful Commissioner Floyd Dominy, didn't mince words: Whatever God could do or had done, mankind could improve upon. There is a natural order in our universe, said the agency. "Man serves God. But Nature serves Man."

The words come from a celebratory booklet which the Bureau published in 1965. Along with hortatory comments about setting nature straight, the 27-page booklet (author unknown) also includes occasional free verse and very bright photos of families having fun along a domesticated Colorado River.

Faced with a "wild red outlaw river" like the Colorado, civil engineers were driven to control and regulate its flow so that no water flowed unused to California. The Glen Canyon Dam also meant that land could be irrigated, fears of flooding would recede, and suburbanites could house-boat on Lake Powell or camp out for a barbecue on its placid beaches.

This was a happy time for watercrats. In their brochure they speak of themselves - immodestly - as gladiators:

Man has flung down a giant barrier directly in the path of the turbulent Colorado in Arizona. It has tamed the wild river - made it a servant to man's will.

Glen Canyon Dam rises over 500 feet from the canyon floor. Its graceful bulk holds 5 million cubic yards of concrete. Behind it, 186-mile-long Lake Powell is filling.

Built of rock and cement and sweat and skill, Glen Canyon Dam stands as a monument to the talent of its builders - and to reaffirmation of the pioneering spirit that is America.

The manmade rock of the dam has become as one with the living rock of the canyon. It will endure as long as time endures.

  - Lake Powell: Jewel of the Colorado