Down with the Glen Canyon Dam?

In 1963, Glen Canyon was pronounced dead. Glen Canyon Dam had submerged its fabled grottoes, Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and slickrock chutes beneath the stagnant water of Lake Powell, and forever altered the ecology of the Grand Canyon just downstream.

For wilderness lovers, the 710-foot-tall concrete wall stuck out of the Colorado River like a middle finger — an insult that helped ignite the modern environmental movement. In 1981, the radical group Earth First! faked a “crack” on the dam by unfurling a 300-foot-long black banner down the structure’s front. The Sierra Club’s first executive director, David Brower, considered the dam’s construction a personal failure and spent the rest of his life advocating for its removal. And in his iconic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, author Edward Abbey imagined a group of friends secretly plotting to blow up the dam and free the Colorado River.

An unprecedented interest in dam removals and the specter of climate change have created fresh hope for those who want to see the drowned canyon resurrected. From 1990 to 2010, the population of the American Southwest grew by 37 percent, even as the amount of water flowing into the Colorado River system shrank amid a historic drought. More people using fewer resources means that neither Lake Powell nor Lake Mead, the downstream reservoir created by Hoover Dam, have been full since 1999. And climate change promises to squeeze the water supply even further, with future droughts expected to bring even hotter and drier conditions.

Meanwhile, Lake Powell may be squandering the very resource it was designed to protect. Every day, water slowly seeps into the soft, porous sandstone beneath the reservoir and evaporates off its surface into the desert air.

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