Slobs at Lake Powell foment a revolt

  • Andrew Gulliford

 

Each summer I do penance at Lake Powell for the environmental sins of its visitors. This summer was no exception as I volunteered to work on a houseboat called the Trash Tracker. Our job: picking up debris in 108-degree heat along 100 miles or so of the 1,900-mile shoreline.

Our team found the usual amount of beer and soda cans, diapers, toys, plywood, pillows, water bottles, fireworks and golf balls. In five days we picked up almost 50 full bags of trash, though in the oppressive heat we covered less ground than usual. But this summer, we saw more toilet paper and human feces than we've ever seen before. Just ask Ranger Terry Bell, who had to dedicate some of her time this summer to go on "poop patrol" around the lake to prevent the spread of fecal coliform bacteria.

It seems that a lot of motor-boaters and houseboat users haven't a clue about "Leave No Trace" ethics. And throughout the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which surrounds Lake Powell, recreational mayhem is only getting worse. The lakeshore has become a wasteland of weeds, tamarisk, exploded fireworks and fire rings full of broken glass and melted aluminum.

So, after three summers of picking up trash, I've come to a revelation: Forget about draining Lake Powell, or "Lake Foul" as the critics call it. Draining the lake is not happening anytime soon because of the legal water rights of downstream states and Mexico; then there's also the increasing signs of drought.

The writer Ed Abbey wanted to blow up Glen Canyon Dam, but he couldn't get the job done.  Back in 1981, EarthFirst! had fun by tossing a large black plastic wedge over Glen Canyon Dam to make it look like the dam was cracked and ready to spill. Nice gesture and a memorable picture, but ineffective.

I'm tired of waiting the 1,000 years or so that it will take before the mighty Colorado River, which drains 243,000 square miles, finally silts up behind the dam and turns it into a huge waterfall. I want Glen Canyon back for paddlers and those who row boats -- now.

The speedboat and houseboat crowd have had the lake since it began to fill in 1963, and what have they done with it? They've trashed it. It's time to take Lake Powell back for the kayakers, the canoers, the rubber-raft folks and all the river people who know how to pick up their trash, how to use fire pans, and who certainly know how to poop into portable toilets once called groovers. (They were named after the first river-running toilets, which were .50 caliber surplus ammunition boxes. Sit on one and grooves will be yours.)

I'm not kidding. With a shoreline longer than that of California, Oregon and Washington, why do motorized watercraft -- including those insanely loud jet skis that buzz around in circles like angry hornets -- control the lake?

I'm raising my canoe paddle. I want to be heard. I want a section of Lake Powell closed to the gas-guzzling, climate-warming motorboat crowd. I want a section just for paddlers, and I think the Escalante arm or the flooded Escalante River section would do just fine. A new industry could be created for shuttling paddlers and their boats into remote canyons.

In honor of all the boatmen who drifted down through the marvels of Glen Canyon before the dam, it's time to take back a portion of it. Here was a place so beautiful that John Wesley Powell wrote on Aug. 3, 1869, "We have a curious ensemble of wonderful features -- carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds and monuments."

Now, the canyons are flooded and over 2,000 Ancestral Puebloan sites and ruins are underwater. We've lost what the eminent Western writer Wallace Stegner called "the incomparable." But solace can still be found amid those red rocks, blue skies, and green waters. For too long, environmentalists have shunned the lake. Instead, it's time to embrace it.

The secrets of Glen Canyon are still there. At the heads of the 93 canyons that form the lake, there are hidden springs, tiny pools of water beneath original, narrow leaf cottonwood trees shimmering green against curved, arching sandstone walls. There is deep silence and a profound sense of geologic time. Glen Canyon has been lost, but its essence can still be found -- not by draining the lake, but by allowing quiet paddles and quiet oars.

Andrew Gulliford is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a professor of Southwest Studies and History at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...