Friday, December 25, 2009

Grand Canyon Regeneration

The Grand Canyon is an extraordinary place for those of us who go back to it for rafting and camping; it's a place I return to every few years to reinvigorate my thinking and immerse myself in its powerful spaces. I began in this area with Arcosanti, and came back again and again with friends to explore the river and its canyons, and of course run the rapids (Lava Falls is a 10).

The Glen Canyon dam has a 50-year history of controversy, not only over the dam itself, but how to manage the river, the fish, the ecosystem and subsequently deal with the invasive plant species that have encroached into the Grand Canyon's ravines and along the river. A prime example of this is the tamarisk, or saltcedar trees, that are degrading the environment along the riverbanks and up in the plateaus of the ravines. They consume tremendous amounts of water as well as overgrowing other native plant species.

The story of radical environmentalism as well as the original exploration of the Canyon by John Wesley Powell spans the arc of the southwestern colonial era to the present day issues of water and environmental preservation.

So it was with relief and hope that I found that the Grand Canyon Sandbar Restoration experiment in 2008 has paid off in a new protocol by the Department of the Interior for experimental releases of high water flows to restore the sand beaches and ecosystem that were essentially cut off by the Glen Canyon dam. This is the start of a new approach to integrating natural processes and the controversial massive public works projects like the dam in order to minimize the environmental degradation that occurs with large dams.

Ultimately, perhaps, we can learn to use resources and integrate systems in a way that makes brute-force engineering like Glen Canyon Dam unnecessary. At least as it stands now, there will be no more Federal dollars put towards dam projects because of the consequences of damming rivers and disrupting the natural benefits of the rivers and their ecosystems.