The Times They Are A-changin'


   Some things never change… or so it seems. Year after year the canyon walls appear the same, resisting the forces of nature and man. The same alcove in the same place, the tiny drip, the favorite rock to tie to. And then something starts to go, the last straw gives way and the rock shelf tumbles down or the talus slope begins to slip. The next trip we notice it. There is change and we take pains to point it out simply for its uniqueness. We often think of government in the same light, cast in stone and unchanging. Certain agencies, it would seem, will never change. Take the Bureau of Reclamation for instance. But believe it or not, it’s changing.

   If there has been a devil incarnate in Grand Canyon over the past 40 years it has been the Bureau of Reclamation. Reclamation (as they choose to be called) provided the concrete plug that choked Glen Canyon, that drowned the canyons above. But the world today is very different from 30 years ago. The era of large reclamation projects is over; no more large dams will be built on the rivers of the United States. What happens to a reclamation agency when reclamation dies? Where do dam builders go if dams are not going to be built? That question has not been lost on this agency over the past 10 years. If you want to survive, you find a new mission. And if you control much of the water in the West, managing water resources might be a good direction. The Bureau of Reclamation is moving.

   Fundamental changes have occurred within the agency that send our carefully crafted characterizations of these dam builders crashing to the ground. To begin with, present Commissioner Dan Beard is the principal author of the Grand Canyon Protection Act! In fact, over the past decade, as a member of Congressman George Miller's staff, Dan Beard has been a strong and influential advocate of water reform throughout the west. In addition the agency is downsizing, its budget request is down 12%. And possibly nearest to our hearts: the Concrete Dams Division has been abolished! What is happening to our devil?

   I was recently asked by Commissioner Beard to join a very special trip through the canyon. This trip, funded by Reclamation but run under AZRA's commercial permit, brought together a disparate group. Trip members included a vegetable grower from California's Central Valley, a lawyer from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and Reclamation employees from D.C. and the western regions. Joining Commissioner Beard as well were Hopi Chairman Ferrill Secakuku and new Grand Canyon Superintendent Rob Arnberger. Agriculture has historically been the primary customer of Reclamation. Now western water has other demands: urban, tribal, and environmental. The participants of this trip represented those constituencies: old and new.

   Lively discussions on the boats and in camp centered on many of the concerns facing the west today—endangered species, over-allocated resources, and burgeoning demands. If there was one area of agreement from the group it was that there must be new and inventive approaches to water problems, that all sides must communicate, and that the Bureau of Reclamation could be a positive force in crafting these solutions.

   Change goes on around us all of the time but, viewed from within, it often seems infinitely slow. And then every once in a while one gets a chance to see changes that can only be described as dramatic. The Bureau of Reclamation is changing quickly. From our position the change is obvious and positive, Reclamation wants to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. Like the loss of the evil empire with the end of the Cold War, this will certainly take some getting used to. But as we adjust and gain confidence we will find that it is infinitely better to have the resources of this agency beside us rather than against us.

   For me this trip, like all canyon trips, is a jumble of individual memories, each rich in meaning. The memory that to me best demonstrates the changes I describe has to do with Larry Van Thun, an engineer with the BuRec Denver office. Larry has an intense love of geology and scampered over the talus slopes and up the dry drainages at every opportunity. No one on the trip was more affected by the canyon's magic. He even made up a mnemonic to remember the Paleozoic layers from the bottom up.

Time By Many Routes,
Sculptured History, Concealed To Keep.

   Larry also led the reorganization of Reclamation's Denver office, the process that eliminated the Concrete Dams Division. At that time Larry served as head of the Concrete Dams Division. The times they are a changin’.

Tom Moody