America's most endangered river
The ongoing debate about the gondola project has had me thinking about the direction of much of the current environmental movement. As some of you may have heard, American Rivers declared the Colorado River as America’s most endangered river for 2015. The threats that they cited include the gondola and several proposed uranium mines near the rim of Grand Canyon. While I feel that the Grand Canyon is a place of exceptional beauty and wilderness quality, this attitude bothers me.
The Colorado River is indeed in dire straits, but in the big picture, I would not view these projects as a significant threat to the river as a whole. The Colorado River does not start at Lee’s Ferry and does not end at Lake Mead. The upper basin flood plain reaches are arguably much more ecologically important, and issues such as bank armoring, development in the flood plains, numerous small dams, several large dams, trans-basin diversions, saline agricultural runoff, invasive species, and water quality wreak havoc on the river system. Every one knows that the Colorado fails to reach the sea, but few realize that it is occasionally dewatered in Palisade, Colorado during dry years. And of course, the Green River is facing the real possibility of a water hungry nuke plant and massive strip mine oil shale development.
The upper basin states are currently scrambling to develop unused water rights that likely exist only on paper. This in the face of climate predictions that forecast significantly reduced runoff for the basin as a whole.
The lower Colorado River and its delta is essentially an ecological disaster.
The problem is that these issues are not easy to fix. In most cases, remediating them would take massive federal funding and/or would have a real negative impact on people’s lives, but currently the environmental movement seems only interested in focusing on emotional appeals to protect famous landmarks and charismatic megafauna.
The other aspect that I see is the commercialized “green” movement that purveys the idea that buying organic produce and shunning plastic water bottles will somehow “save the earth.” Not bad ideas, but once again, easy fixes for problems that I see as marginal in the long run.
My point is that most of the real environmental challenges that we face are difficult to address, but instead we focus on easy (and often slightly elitist) issues that often don’t really change things in the long run.
While I am irresolutely opposed to the tram, I would gladly see a tram built at the confluence if it were in trade for real progress in restoring and protecting the many less romantic reaches of river that face real problems.
(end of rant)