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, its 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 todayendangered 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.