Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

A Beached Armada?

Moonrise, Lake Powell (7786)

Yes, I think this is a “pretty picture”.  It’s a view of moonrise over Navajo Mountain, Lake Powell, and the Wahweap Marina (near Page, Arizona) as the sun casts its last light on a red rock formation on the far shoreline.  The “picture” was even better in person.  There’s little that compares visually to dusk in the desert, at least in my opinion.  The air cools quickly and the sky becomes radiant.  It’s a remarkably peaceful time of day in places like this.

The lake, of course, is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Fed by the Colorado River, the lake is a playground for people from virtually all over the world.  Heck, if you’re staying at the resort inside the park’s boundaries, you sometimes begin to wonder what country you’re in since no one seems to be speaking English.  And if you like boating, this is the place to be.  Other than Lake Mead (behind Hoover Dam to the southwest) there are few places in the area to launch a boat.  Unless you’re a fan of rafting on the Colorado.  But if you want to launch (or rent) a more conventional craft – like the houseboats seen here – you have to do it in one of the two lakes.  Hence the universal attraction of Lake Powell.  A proverbial Oasis in the Desert.

Unfortunately, there’s a huge problem in this particular slice of heaven.  And it doesn’t just affect Lake Powell – it encompasses all of the southwestern United States.  I’m talking about the availability of water.  The whole area is literally drying up.  As I mentioned in “A Stain on the Wall” (here), the level of Lake Powell is down by more than 80 feet.  To get from this marina into the lake’s main section requires passing through what has become a narrow, shallow channel.  Once upon a time, 2 relatively large vessels could pass through this channel at the same time.  No more.  It’s now a one-way street.  If the lake loses much more water, even that will be difficult.

This problem could eventually affect all of us.  It’s about a lot more than boats and recreation.  Without adequate snowpack and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, the agricultural regions of central and southern California will be seriously affected.  If that happens, fruit and vegetable prices will certainly go up.  All over the country.

Climate change, of course, is part of it.  Even when there is significant snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, for example, the runoff from the snow melt occurs too soon.  Much of it happens in February, before the growing season actually starts.  The water winds up in the Pacific Ocean instead of in the fields.  And if the Rockies stay drier than normal, then the Colorado River will not be replenished and Lakes Powell and Mead will continue to drop.

So this is, in my view, more than just a “pretty picture”.  It’s a picture of what exists now, but might not exist in the not too distant future.  It’s a picture of a slowly draining lake, a lake that supports not only local tourism and recreation, but also a growing downstream population and critical agricultural interests.

Solutions?  Sadly, there’s only one that makes any sense.  And that’s water conservation.  Cost efficient desalination of Pacific water is not yet an option.  Nor is the pumping of ground water.  While it exists, it cannot be replenished quickly enough.  It would soon run out.  The only answer is learning how to get by with less.

For Americans, not an easy “solution”.


4 Responses to “A Beached Armada?”

  1. TomDills

    Another example of the right solution not being the popular one. I wonder often what it will take to force action.

    Very nice photo, Paul, and one the reflects perhaps a deceptively peaceful scene.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Tom. You’re right when you say “deceptively peaceful”. Page, Az only exists because of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The town was built when the dam was started. If the water really dries up, what then?

      Of course it may not dry up. The current “dry cycle” might not last and millions of gallons of water will flow down the river and all will be well. But no one is predicting that. It’s more likely that the drought will continue. Not good news for a good chunk of the U. S.

  2. John - Visual Notebook

    Looks very similar to a shot I took in ’97 when we visited Lake Powell. Of course, then the water was plentiful, the lake full. Unfortunately, I think that the world is in for some rough years ahead (well, humanity, anyway) as resources become more difficult to obtain and populations continue to increase. Water conservation is the tip of the iceberg (pun intended (is that a pun?)).

    • Paul Maxim

      Gee, I think that qualifies as a “pun”, John. You’ve used a phrase with two possible meanings to emphasize the point. Except, of course, that you’re never going to see an iceberg in Lake Powell. If an iceberg ever does show up there, we’ll know we’re in the middle of some really serious climate change!

      But I don’t think that that matters (does it?). I should have paid more attention in English classes way back when………..


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