Lake Powell wastes water, hides beauty, professor says
By Jen Feinstein
USU students filed into the TSC auditorium on Wednesday to hear Dr. Richard Ingebretsen address these questions.
Ingebretsen, a professor at the University of Utah and the founder and president of the Glen Canyon Institute, first explained that "Lake" Powell is not really a lake, but a reservoir. He said that while lakes form naturally and are permanent; reservoirs are man-made and, by definition, temporary.
Next, Ingebretsen showed slides of Glen Canyon before it was flooded with water. Areas with names such as Cathedral in the Desert and Music Temple, named because of the reverence people felt for them, are now under 500 feet of water, he said.
As a young Boy Scout, Ingebretsen had hiked through Glen Canyon before the dam was built. He was told to enjoy the view because what he saw would be under water the following year. When he returned a year later to find the predictions were correct he was deeply saddened.
"I had heartache over the loss that I'd seen," he said.
While the loss of the beautiful canyon upset Ingebretsen, he says the environmental impact of the dam is the reason he became involved with the effort to drain the reservoir.
According to a pamphlet distributed by the Glen Canyon Institute, the dam is, "directly responsible for the extinction of three endangered fish species and impacts the habitat for five other endangered fish. In addition, the dam is responsible for the threatened or endangered listing of over 60 plant, animal, fish, reptile, and amphibian species."
Ingebretsen explained that Lake Powell loses 675,000 to 1 million of acre feet of water each year because of evaporation -- enough water to supply Salt Lake City for four years.
"I assure you Lake Powell does not save water, it wastes it," he said.
Draining the reservoir would also be economical, Ingebretsen said. The water that would be conserved each year would be worth an estimated $200 million at current prices. The loss of water due to evaporation also increases the salinity of the water, Ingebretsen said, and millions of dollars are spent annually to reduce it.
Ingebretsen said that Lake Powell is destined to silt in. The current rate of sedimentation is 50,000 acre feet per year and the reservoir has lost about one-fifth of its capacity already.
According to Ingebretsen, this sediment is laced with heavy metals and toxic chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and uranium. He said notices have been issued advising pregnant mothers that there are poisons in the sediment that could cause birth defects.
The sediment is also likely to hinder the ability to produce hydroelectricity within the next 125 years.
The recreational value of Lake Powell was also addressed. Ingebretsen said that if the reservoir was drained, the kind of recreation would be what changed. Boating and swimming would be replaced with activities such as rafting, canoeing and hiking. And people would be able to enjoy the beauty of Glen Canyon.
"Glen Canyon will become an international wonder," Ingebretsen said.
Ingebretsen says that ultimately it will require an act of Congress and an agreement among the seven states affected by the dam before the reservoir can be drained. Currently, the Glen Canyon Institute, a non-profit organization, is focusing its efforts on collecting data. Those interested in more information can visit their web site at www.glencanyon.org.