August 2004

Lake Powell Reservoir and Glen Canyon Dam in Crisis

The following is a summary of a lecture given by Chris Peterson at the Humanists of Utah July general meeting.

Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1963, dammed the free flowing Colorado River and created Lake Powell reservoir. The Glen Canyon Dam inundated and flooded some of America’s most spectacular wilderness beauty. The current severe drought in the West is revealing what was lost to the waters of Lake Powell reservoir. This is a brief introduction to the issues surrounding Glen Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell reservoir, and the Colorado River. Like the receding waters of Lake Powell reservoir, this introduction reveals it’s not worth it!

Glen Canyon Dam was built as the final piece of the Colorado River Compact with the primary purpose of water storage to ensure water delivery to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Lake Powell reservoir was justified to Congress in the 1950’s as the perfect solution to uncertainty of water supply for the growing Southwest. It was to be the “silver bullet,” providing an insurance policy for the Upper Basin States’ water delivery responsibility, regulating floods, and being a “cash register” hydropower dam to pay for building dozens of other dams upstream in the Colorado’s watershed. After forty years, it is clear that Lake Powell reservoir is far from the perfect solution to water supply problems in the West.

As a combined result of being lined by sandstone walls and having a large surface area in an arid climate, Lake Powell reservoir wastes significant amounts of water to bank seepage and evaporation (nearly 1 million acre-feet annually). The hydropower it actually generates contributes an insignificant amount of less than 3% to the region. Due to rapid sedimentation, the dam and reservoir are imposing significant long-term costs on the public, are unsafe, and have all but destroyed the biological resources in Glen and Grand Canyons. However, the most devastating impact of Lake Powell’s development has been the false sense of water security to both the Upper and Lower Basin States, which has resulted in unsustainable growth and development.

The idea of a centralized water and electricity system has simply proven to be unsustainable. Glen Canyon Dam began life as a political decision. It exists today as a monument to the political tradeoffs of the 1950’s. The Colorado River is a national resource, supported and subsidized by all Americans. Its purpose and future should be debated on a national level, not in the offices of developers.

What is Glen Canyon?

Described by John Wesley Powell as a “land of beauty and glory,” and by Edward Abbey as “a portion of Earth’s original paradise,” magnificent Glen Canyon and its unique side canyons are unlike any in the world. Waterfalls, hanging gardens, spectacular narrows, arches, painted grottos, and picturesque alcoves abounded in the more than 125 unique side canyons. Glen Canyon also holds many secrets from the past, with more than 3000 documented ruins from ancient cultures. As the biological heart of the Colorado River, more than 79 species of plants, 189 species of birds, and 34 species of mammals lived along the stream and river terraces in Glen Canyon. River otters played in the calm waters while herons nested in the cottonwoods along the shores. Maidenhair ferns decorated the cliff walls that towered over crucial breeding grounds for humpback chub and numerous other endemic species that depended on the free-flowing Colorado River for their seasonal migration.

Hidden Passage, under 300 feet of water

Glen Canyon Dam and “Lake” Powell Reservoir

In 1963, the gates at Glen Canyon Dam were closed. Lake Powell reservoir began to drown Glen Canyon, one of the world’s most spectacular and unexplored riparian environments. The waters that backed up behind the dam flooded 186 miles of the Colorado River, including all of Glen Canyon and large portions of its tributaries. The fragile Grand Canyon ecosystem, which depended upon the nutrients the Colorado River picked up in Glen Canyon, immediately began to decline. Spring floods that previously deposited millions of tons of vital sediment and nutrients in Grand Canyon were halted and replaced by cold, clear, regulated flows. Since 1963, all of the sediment that should have been destined for the Grand Canyon has been trapped behind the dam. These sediment deposits are growing at a rate equivalent to 30,000 dump-truck loads every day. Native fish, which had evolved and flourished in the dynamic, pre-dam environment, have been unable to adapt, several have become endangered, and two have been extirpated from Glen and Grand Canyons.

The Ongoing Drought: The Restoration of Legendary Glen Canyon

The current drought in the Southwest, which is not unprecedented in recent history, has drawn the water levels of Lake Powell down by more than 56%, exposing hundreds of miles of “lost” side canyons and more than forty miles of the Colorado River itself. In addition, the record low water levels have shown that Glen Canyon and its side canyons possess an incredible capacity for rapid restoration. Plants and animals are beginning to return to many side canyons as returning streams wash away the sediment that had accumulated when reservoir levels were higher. Seeps of desert varnish are creeping their way down canyon walls to cover the white bathtub ring that marked the reservoir’s high water levels. As the reservoir’s water recedes from the canyons, it is evident that Lake Powell reservoir is not an acceptable solution to the region’s water resource problems. Long-term climate models predict changing hydrologic dynamics throughout the watershed, decreasing the reservoir’s storage capacity-as there may not be sufficient water in the river to refill it.

Cathedral in the Desert. Will be fully visible in late 2005

In the time since the dam was first considered, it has become increasingly apparent that the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell reservoir are not worth the sacrifices that must be made to keep them in operation. The large amounts of water lost to evaporation and bank seepage, the costs to taxpayers to keep the system running, the flooding of Glen Canyon, and the continuing destruction of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River are prices we cannot afford to pay. We have been granted a window of opportunity that is revealing to us once again the wonders of Glen Canyon while bringing the debate of western water consumption to the foreground so we may see that there are other, more sustainable options for how we manage our water. The current drought is showing us now that we can reverse this great western tragedy and restore Glen and Grand Canyons.

For more information follow this link to the Grand Canyon Institute or on Chris’ name below to send him e-mail.

–Chris Peterson
Executive Director Grand Canyon Institute

Creating a Theocracy in America

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Along with the steady numbers of dead soldiers in Iraq, there are two other categories of American casualty, says James Heflin, the author of Their Will Be Done: Creating a Theocracy in America. One consists of civilian contractors, Halliburton employees and others who are helping rebuild Iraq, and the other of Southern Baptist missionaries. The presence of the latter in harm’s way has been made possible by the curious relationship of the Religious Right and the Republican Right. These missionaries are the ultimate recruiting tool for the Islamic Right. The Islamic fundamentalists can point to direct evidence of Bush, the Christian Crusader, not Bush the benevolent exporter of freedom. That’s OK with the Christian fundamentalists, who view America as a Christian nation that is directly favored by God in world affairs.

Heflin grew up in the Southern Baptist church, the son of a minister. Baptists were strong supporters of the separation of church and state–until recently. The denomination’s foundational beliefs were trampled in the ’80s and ’90s by a minority who forced it from conservatism to rigid fundamentalism. This transformation was made “through cynical manipulation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s democratic procedures, a no-holds-barred, unethical ruthlessness that used every loophole and ugly smearing of anyone who stood in the way. A self-declared righteous few left Christian behavior far behind, and through fear mongering about ‘liberals’ turned Southern Baptist sentiment ever further toward absolutism.”

When in 2000, the fundamentalist faction changed the Southern Baptist statement of belief, the takeover was complete: Ex-president Jimmy Carter left the denomination and Jerry Falwell joined. In place of the Convention stands a monolithic power structure bent on imposing its version of Christianity–a rigid, exclusive, Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone, fear-and-loathing, un-Christ like Christianity–on more moderate Christians, on the federal government and the rest of the world.

The plans of these Christians are preached in pulpits weekly. Heflin fears, “If we do not pay attention to their manipulation of American democratic processes now that they have gained remarkable power among Republicans, the principles of our democracy will eventually be as distant a memory as the kinder, gentler southern Baptist Convention of my childhood.”

He says we’re a country founded by people fleeing religious persecution, who understood that, when it comes to protecting the rights of religious groups, every group, no matter who is the majority, must be equally protected to preserve “religious freedom.” The framers of the Constitution were so adamantly opposed to the theocratic-style governments of the American colonies that they expressly forbade religious tests for public servants.

Author Frederick Clark explains, “Before 1787, most of the colonies and early states had required pledges of allegiance to Christianity and that one be a Christian of the correct sect to hold office. Part of the struggle toward democracy at the time was the disestablishment of the state churches–the power structures of the local colonial theocracies.”

In the present day, Christian fundamentalists have introduced in Congress the Constitution Restoration Act, sponsored in the Senate by Richard Shelby (R-Ala) and Zell Miller (D-Ga). If backers get their way, Americans will no longer receive the same protections that Washington has insisted that Iraqis have. The act calls for exemption from Supreme Court jurisdiction of all cases in which public servants, including judges, “acknowledge” God as “the source” of law. It would disallow the Supreme Court from referencing any source other than the Constitution or English common law in its decisions. It would retroactively exempt from Supreme Court jurisdiction cases such as that of Roy Moore, a judge who was recently removed from office for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse. A judge who attempted to rule in such cases could be impeached. Who knows what actions a public servant could get away with under the banner of invoking God as the source of law.

Westerners get outraged at the barbarity of calls for the imposition of Islam’s laws called sharia, in which, for example, an adulterous woman is to be stoned. But Heflin says, “Many of the fundamentalists are–really–actively pursuing an America in which a judge who says that adulterous women are to be stoned according to biblical law would be allowed to impose that sentence, not to mention execution for such things as heresy, apostasy, and homosexuality. Although the Constitution Restoration Act will probably disappear like most extremist bills, Heflin believes it is important because it is a “brazen play to further the wishes of an insatiable, power-hungry minority convinced of God’s exclusive blessing.”

Christian Reconstructionist thought is pervasive among fundamentalists of several denominations. The idea is simple: Christians have not only the right but the duty to take the reins of government and establish a secular manifestation of God’s power. It is theirs, they believe, to enforce biblical law on the rest of us, at least the Old Testament kind, not the “turn the other cheek” New Testament variety. They feel they would be stripping away our rights for our own good, for the saving of our souls. To hold that religious pluralism is good, they contend, is to hold that moral relativism is good. They know the Truth, and they know that even moderate Protestants are hell bound, in need of saving. Theirs is a world of absolutes, and it is to them only a matter of our sinfulness that keeps us from seeing those absolutes.

“This would be,” states Heflin, “a mere curiosity if it were not for George Bush’s reliance on the Religious Right for much of his power. They have anointed him as the nation’s Christian leader, who was installed by the Supreme Court because God willed it, even if the American people, in their sinful folly, did not vote according to the Divine Will. Bush passes the only important fundamentalist test: the acceptance of Christ as his ‘personal savior.’ That phrase absolves him of all need to justify his actions. If Bush says God told him so, then God told him so… [The fundamentalists] grant Bush precisely what America fought a revolution to get rid of: the divine right of kings…

“They could deliver votes and systematically take over Republican infrastructure. That’s what the liberal Left needs to do.”


~Book Review~

Here is THE book every serious humanist should read and then keep handy for a quick reference. FreeThinkers, a History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby is a fascinating summary of the secularist founders of our nation and the influence the philosophy of the Enlightenment played in establishing a government based on reason rather than religion. Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, and Walt Whitman, the secular poet, Vashti McCollum, Humanist Heroine, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, Feminist Pioneers are just a few of the secularists recognized by the author.

FreeThinkers restores to history generations of dedicated Humanist champions who have led the struggle to uphold secular government and religious liberty, the glory of the American system.

After digesting the contents of FreeThinkers you’ll be proud of your humanism and be ready to answer the questions of our critics. Arthur Miller says, “This book is fresh air for the lungs of those who defend the separation of church and state.”

–Flo Wineriter