Sunday, May 28, 2006

Life On The Colorado River:

The River Keeps on Giving, We Keep On Taking

Time flies out on the river. The weeks have been whizzing by this May as I move quickly from one N.A.L. trip to another. I have learned about the intensity of real desert heat. I have waited hours,patiently, for the cooling of the sunset and the reward of endless stars. I have reaffirmed my love for working with students outdoors. I have had days that didn't feel like work at all - thanks to the amazing energy and skill of fellow Natties and the unmatchable flexibility of the N.A.L. work day.

I have enjoyed being constantly immersed in the Colorado River ecosystem. The river, 1450 miles long and draining large watersheds in 7 southwestern states, is, even in its very changed state, a mighty forceful component of this continent. It touches everyone's life who life in this region - whether they know it or not. Spending my weekends in Vegas I imagine the pipe that drinks from Lake Mead the water to fill the fountains and pools.

I have paddled many miles - always a dam above me and below me. The river has become lazy, the massive amounts of water lay waiting and evaporating. Each held back pool warms the water, then the dam releases the coldest and clearest of the lake from bottom reaches. In this fashion the water is a chain of warm lakes and cold rivers like non-other. You can imagine how much this differs from the pre-1936 river. Before the Hoover Dam the river was of course tumultuous, but also very silty and warm. Its seasonal flooding recharged lowlands and maintained productive agriculture. Now-a-days, canals bring water out into the desert to water crops ranging from cotton to lettuce. These lands suffer from many ailments as they are depleted with nutrients and loaded with evaporated salts.

But don't let my digressions make you think the river is all lost. The new Colorado River has been good to me (and all of you) . It is now not only a manageable water resource, but a playground, and a classroom. And also a migratory bird route and a generator of comparatively greener power. The human impact on the Colorado River is lengthy discussion. The impact here is no different than across the globe. We humans use resources. For everything everyday. The Colorado River, when floating along between two mighty canyon walls peering through clear water into even deeper canyons below, seems infinite. It is not. It, like everything, can be used up.

Photos: (1) Sunset reflection of Lake Mojave. (2) The Upper River Crew: L to R, Caitlin, Will, Quinn, me, Alok, Irene, and ElDoug. (3) L.A. students "reconnect" on a sandbar on the Lower River. (4) Staff debrief: delphinious surfing.