Forum: Climate change restoring Glen Canyon

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

Joe Borman, a junior in geography, has visited Glen Canyon in Southern Utah regularly since he was 15. Borman, now 21, said the bright bathtub rings that run along the emerging sandstone is the only version of Glen Canyon he has ever known.

At an environmental conference at the U Thursday, students saw photographs of the changes occurring across the entire region over time because of climate change and drought.

“I hadn’t seen how quickly everything is changing,” he said.

In 1956, Congress authorized the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam and power plant. Subsequently, Lake Powell was formed in a vast reservoir, which filled the canyon system that stretches through the Upper Colorado River Basin in Southern Utah and parts of Arizona. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area now covers more than 1.2 million acres. During the past 10 years the water levels have declined significantly in the reservoir because of increased water demand and severe drought.

At the conference organized by the Glen Canyon Institute, a nonprofit environmental group, scientists, public policy makers and activists addressed how climate change is restoring Glen Canyon.

The rings on canyon walls are signs of the reservoir’s decline, said James Kay, who has photographed Southern Utah landscapes for 25 years, during his presentation of Glen Canyon photos.

“Some people say they hate bathtub rings,” he said. “I love bathtub rings. The higher the better.”

Kay showed photos of the canyon at the conference. The 80- to 90-feet-tall bathtub rings, exposed bedrock and growing native trees such as cottonwoods and willows showed a rapid return of ecosystems that had been submerged under water for more than 40 years. Kay described the experience of photographing the canyon as a trip back in time.

Kay and others at the conference estimated that the canyons have lost approximately 90 valleys of water since 1999, when the steepest phase of the drought began.

In 2005, the reservoir reached its lowest level at 140 feet below full bowl. The reservoir, which is half full, will take about 100 years of above-average rainfall for the reservoir to return to its full bowl levels.

Eric Balken, a senior in environmental studies and geography, who also works for the institute, said the decline of the reservoir is a result of global warming as well as an increased demand on the Colorado River.

The institute has had increasing financial support, which Balken said he thinks it is due to a changing public mindset.

“People are understanding the seriousness of global climate change,” he said.

[email protected]