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OUR WAY: Dredging cut should be an option if drought persists

Posted: Wednesday, Apr 9th, 2008

Area residents have plenty to cheer about this spring with the projected 50-foot increase in Lake Powell, a substantial filling that will allow boaters to use the Castle Rock Cut for the first time in five years.

The popular shortcut from Wahweap to points up lake cuts about 12 miles from the journey boaters must currently make (that’s 24 miles round trip), which means a substantial reduction in gasoline, travel time and emissions of pollutants. Managers of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area have decided to hold off on deepening the cut for now — work probably couldn’t be completed before the waters rise anyway — and they project that it will be usable in its current state through 2010.

Managers continue to conduct an environmental assessment on deepening the cut, which is wise considering the uncertainty of future weather patterns. The upper Colorado River Basin is enjoying a great year for snowpack, but there is no indication the ongoing drought is coming to an end, and thus the desirability of deepening the cut remains.

Maintaining a navigable Castle Rock Cut means more than simply providing boaters with a shortcut. It offers an environmentally friendly solution to the current drought-caused situation and ensures that huge amounts of gasoline will be saved both in the short-term and over the longer haul.

If the drought persists, and lake levels begin dropping to a point a few years from now where the current cut is again unusable, managers must be ready to conduct the excavation necessary to keep the route in use. This year’s reprieve shouldn’t prompt an attitude of complacency regarding the need to make Castle Rock Cut a permanent shortcut to points up lake.

In a larger sense, the significant refilling of Lake Powell — while it may or may not reflect a longer term trend of higher and healthier lake levels — signals a victory for those who argue that Glen Canyon Dam is performing exactly as designed. It also signals a reality check for those who have been portraying the dam as a failed enterprise for many years now.

Because the dam flooded the remote but stunningly beautiful Glen Canyon — a flooding treated by some as a catastrophe — there will always be those who see nothing but negatives associated with the dam and its creation of Lake Powell. There are many others, however, who — regardless of their feelings about the flooding of Glen Canyon — understand that we now must reckon with the reality of what does exist.

That reality, frankly, is a beautiful sight to behold.

Inaccurate and sometimes utterly false portrayals of the lake have hurt Page and visitation to Lake Powell in recent years. While the drop in lake level due to ongoing drought has resulted in significant changes in the dam’s operation and required adaptations to recreational facilities, it has never made the lake unusable or undesirable for boaters.

However, news stories that claimed the lake was “drying up” kept many visitors at home and also led to a chorus of “I told you so” from some who never liked the lake in the first place.

Remarkably, however, the dam has continued to generate power, and the lake has continued to serve as a multimillion-dollar recreational resource for people from around the world. Indeed, the system has performed just as envisioned, storing water during lean years and helping quench the nearly unslakable thirst of California during a drought.

Now, a spike in regional snowpack has occurred, just as similar spikes have occurred in the midst of droughts dating back some 1,500 years, according to tree ring studies. Thus, just as it was intended to do, the dam will allow a massive refilling of Lake Powell to occur that will keep the lake at higher levels for at least a couple more years.

It may be time for those who love Lake Powell — and whose livelihoods depend on it — to sound off with a good-natured “I told you so” of their own.

In the meantime, residents of Page and other communities that depend on Lake Powell for their economic health ought to be cheering joyfully about the resiliency of the system, and expressing gratitude for a very good water year.

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