One dam, two rallies

A protest draws demonstrators who want to drain Lake Powell, and those who love it

 

When parched, sun-baked customers walk into the new Restoration Creamery in Moab, Utah, they get in deeper than the cost of a double-dip with sprinkles.

Adorning the wall is the gargantuan image of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt taking a sledgehammer to Glen Canyon Dam. Pamphlets offer a little light reading on the how-to's and why-to's of draining Lake Powell. The flavors in the freezer case have names like "Abbey's Rocky Road," a reference to author and dam basher Ed Abbey, and "Music Temple Almond Fudge," named after a grotto in Glen Canyon, submerged under the lake. All profits are dedicated to restoring the Colorado River watershed.

The organization behind Restoration Creamery is the two-month-old Glen Canyon Action Network, a band of local activists determined to drain Lake Powell and restore the Colorado River. "We will measure our success as an organization by how much press coverage we get," says network field director David Orr. "The more this debate is in the papers, the more it will get discussed."

The inauguration of a brand name and storefront hub has given the network a face, an identity, and a unique position in the debate over Glen Canyon. It also raises the question: What's the best way to build support for tearing down a dam?

Making some noise

On March 14, the action network held a rally at Glen Canyon Dam. A crowd of about 300 listened to speeches and oaths from aging torch bearers such as singer Katie Lee and former Sierra Club head David Brower.

A new generation was there as well. College students and teenagers danced and waved signs that read "Razorback Suckers Unite" while the "Drainettes," four women clad in low-cut dresses and hard hats, stood in the back of Ed Abbey's pickup truck, locked arms and did high kicks.

Clayton Beverly, a student from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, was part of the crowd. "I've always thought Glen Canyon Dam is a monstrosity and a blight," he said.

Absent from the festivities were representatives of the Glen Canyon Institute, the organization that has built up credibility for the movement over the past three years (HCN, 11/10/97: Drain Lake Powell?). The institute continues to take a quieter approach, enlisting support for draining the lake using scientific evidence and careful politicking.

"It may be a little early for a groundswell. We don't want to peak too early with this," says institute founder Richard Ingebretsen. "Right now, what's in between us and draining Lake Powell is not the 18-year-old with the nose ring and the life jacket standing above the dam. It's the water buffaloes downstream in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It's congressional delegates. We're not going to see the bottom of Glen Canyon until they're on board."

Ingebretsen doesn't begrudge anyone the right to rant, but he says it could undermine his organization's approach. In the next 12 to 18 months, the institute will hold a series of public hearings throughout the region to gather public comment and garner support for a federal study on removing the dam.

Opposition organizes

There's no question, however, that the action network has been getting attention.

March 14 also saw another rally at the other side of the dam. This one started with the color guard and a Mormon prayer while a crowd of perhaps 500 listened from folding chairs. Friends of Lake Powell, based in Page, Ariz., turned out to affirm the goodness of the reservoir.

They distributed flyers and information kits which refute the environmentalist "myths" about the lake. Contrary to popular belief, they argued, the dam has not destroyed the Colorado River ecosystem. Instead, it has turned a warm, muddy river into a clear, cool one, where gold-medal trout fisheries now abound. Tearing the dam out would leave "huge eyesores on the landscape" and devastate a lucrative tourist economy.

Cloyd Chamberlain, who serves on the Kane County Water Conservancy District, has lived in the region since 1925. He helped pour the first load of cement into the quay way of Glen Canyon Dam.

"This dam affects more people in the West, than any (other) single thing ' 35 million people are affected by the power, the recreation that takes place and the tourist industry that is connected with it," Chamberlain says. "It has an annual income of approximately $500 million to these people. The dam was paid for almost 20 years ago. It's the most clean, free source of power that we have in this nation. It would be impossible to duplicate anything like it ... I think people are out of their minds to even consider trying to replace it."

As recently as two years ago, there was little awareness among lake enthusiasts of the movement afoot to draw down the lake. Now, most kids on the street in Page are prepared to argue each point.

"If they drained (Lake Powell), it would be the biggest hell hole you could ever imagine for over 100 years," says Stacy Mauger, who has lived in Page all her life. Mauger said the businesses in Page all closed for the day to show protesters what it would be like without Lake Powell.

The dam busters' rally drew fire from more than Page locals. The day after the event, a Salt lake City TV station and the Mormon-run Deseret News editorialized against draining the reservoir.

These are precisely the kind of reactions Richard Ingebretsen seeks to avoid. "Katie Lee and David Brower have every right and reason to loudly mourn the loss of Glen Canyon. But Glen Canyon Institute would rather work quietly in the Page community, and with the LDS Church, to build support for a full-scale study of environmental impacts," Ingebretsen says. "Going down there and making noise will provoke the opposition to take a stronger stand."

Adam Burke produces "Radio High Country News."


YOU CAN CONTACT ...

  • Glen Canyon Action Network, 435/259-1063, www.drainit.org;
  • Joan Nevills-Staveley, Friends of Lake Powell, 520/645-2741, www.lakepowell.org;
  • Glen Canyon Institute, 520/556-9311, www.glencanyon.org.
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