The Southwest’s unrestrained thirst for the waters of the Colorado River can be devastating upstream

“I have mentored in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Alaska,” Gordon Tharett said, describing his 30-year career leading elite fishermen around the world. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“It’s exceptional,” said Stephen Little, the son of a local fishing ranger who has been swimming and fishing this stretch since he was young. “You get people from all over the world. Eric Clapton has been here. Tiger Woods. If you’re a fly catcher, this is one of the places to hit.”

But remember the American West worst dehydration in 1200 years Their fantasies turn into head-shaking anxiety and disgust. They may have more water than most—hundreds of miles of fallow farms in Arizona or lawns in Los Angeles—but they know it in Colorado River Systemhuge, Unregulated demand for water Downstream is a threat to everything upstream.

“A golf course requires millions of gallons of water,” Tharett said. “It will get to a point where people have to decide, ‘Am I alive or playing golf? Should I have a garden in the desert or should I pay $100 for a basket of berries?'”

A fly catcher on the Green River south of the Flaming Gorge Dam.

John Wesley Powell wrote his diary “the gorge is on fire” after seeing the golden watch lighting up the red rocks in what became known as the Flaming Gorge.

It was 1871, and after launching his boat, the Emma Dean, into the Green River in Wyoming, an armed Civil War veteran was one on his way to becoming the first known man to float and paddle this major tributary in Colorado and across the Grand Canyon.

His trip came after the passage of the Homestead Act, which promised that any citizen wishing to settle and improve America’s Wild West could claim 160 acres of federal land for free.

The Green River is one of the best spots in the country for fly fishing due to the temperature-controlled water released by the Flaming Gorge Dam.

But after studying the geology and hydrology of the Colorado Basin, Powell warned that this policy “has built up a legacy of conflict and litigation over water rights, where there is not enough water to supply these lands.”

Congress and newly formed state governments ignored the warning, and by the mid-20th century they were convinced that by building levees on various areas along the Colorado system, they could engineer enough oases to keep farms, farms, and major cities alive.

“In this part of the United States, the key is water,” John F. Kennedy said during the dedication ceremony of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1963. “The Colorado Basin is no longer home to erratic water flow, causing drought and poverty in dry years and waste in wet years. Now water will be available wherever it is needed…”

only if.

Less than three months later, the president faced tragedy in Dallas, and in the years since his dedication, the dam had devastating effects on fish downstream.

The local economy around Flaming Gorge relies on tourists who come to splash in the reservoir or to fish and float on the Green River.
The output of the temperature-controlled tank is Goldilocks' spawning grounds for insects and trout.

But in the late 1970s, after a graduate student persuaded the governor of Utah to fly fishing to consider modifying a dam called Penstock, engineers were able to break free from certain depths of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, controlling the temperature of the tail waters below and creating a temperate zone for spawning. Insects and brown trout that feed on them.

Today, most of the local economy depends on tourists who come to splash in the reservoir, which runs deep into Wyoming, or to catch and float fish. And when the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and four states in the upper Colorado River Basin agreed to release 500,000 acres — 1/6 of the reservoir’s capacity — to help drained communities in the South, it caused a local uproar.

“There are a lot of people who just get angry,” Little said, as he paddled in the clear swirls of gin. “It’s their water. It’s their geographical property. So, they don’t like to go down to the desert cities that need it either. And what effect on the fisheries, especially here? I mean, that’s people’s livelihood.”

We’re worried,” said Woody Bear, co-owner of Flaming Gorge Resort, as he leaned against shelves full of hand-tied flies. “As Lake Powell has collapsed over the years, we worry, ‘Will the Flaming Gorge get to the point where it doesn’t generate electricity or go too far?'” “

Fly catchers come from all over the world to catch green river rainbow and trout.

Lake Powell, which straddles the borders of Utah and Arizona, is named after the man who first sounded the drought alarm more than 150 years ago. Climate change is accelerating its bleak predictions.

Nicholas Williams, director of energy for the Office of Reclamation for the Upper Colorado River Basin, said the tank has fallen eerily into a “dead puddle,” when “we draw a vortex similar to what you see in a bathtub like draining.” . “If you don’t have a deep enough puddle of water at the top, it causes problems and can damage power plant equipment and is too low for electricity generation.”

Reclamation officials told a Senate committee this week that western states should prepare for more dramatic cuts in the Colorado River’s water allocation in 2023 — up to four million acres, or more than 1.3 trillion gallons, roughly as much as California allocates in one year. .

CNN Senior Climate Correspondent Bill Wear holds a rainbow trout caught on the Green River.

“How long can we do that?” Williams said about the launch of Flaming Gorge. “It’s only a few years. The rest will depend on how long we continue to be dry, and where our water use goes? We have to learn to live with the water we have, and the use we have sustained over the past several decades will change.”

Tharett thinks officials have the misconception that they will be able to salvage something by draining the upper aquarium tanks.

“It’s like a teenager when they get their first paycheck,” Tharett told CNN, and the next day they go and spend everything and don’t get paid for two weeks and then they panic. If they drain all these upper cabinets, which are the lifeblood of everything below, they will have nothing.”

“And then they would really panic,” he added.