Manual Adventure at Snake River: Rangers from Florida experience the majesty and dangers of Snake River

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The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly. They were killed by Native Americans after making it to the rim of the canyon; two days later, the expedition ran the last of the Grand Canyon rapids and reached St. In what is perhaps a twist of irony, modern-day Lake Powell, which floods Glen Canyon, is also named for their leader.

In , the Uncle Sam was launched to provide supplies to the U. Army outpost at Fort Yuma. Although this vessel accidentally foundered and sank early in its career, commercial traffic quickly proliferated because river transport was much cheaper than hauling freight over land. Under Brigham Young 's grand vision for a "vast empire in the desert", [] the State of Deseret Mormon settlers were among the first whites to establish a permanent presence in the watershed, Fort Clara or Fort Santa Clara , in the winter of along the Santa Clara River , tributary of the Virgin River.

From to , Mormon colonists founded St. Stone's Ferry was established by these colonists on the Colorado at the mouth of the Virgin River to carry their produce on a wagon road to the mining districts of Mohave County, Arizona to the south. Also, in , a steamboat landing was established at Callville , intended as an outlet to the Pacific Ocean via the Colorado River, for Mormon settlements in the Great Basin. These settlements reached a peak population of about before being abandoned in , and for nearly a decade these valleys became a haven for outlaws and cattle rustlers.

From to , Colorado Steam Navigation Company steamboats carried the salt, operating up river in the high spring flood waters, through Boulder Canyon , to the landing at Rioville at the mouth of the Virgin River.

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From to the Southwestern Mining Company, largest in El Dorado Canyon, brought in a foot sloop the Sou'Wester that sailed up and down river carrying the salt in the low water time of year until it was wrecked in the Quick and Dirty Rapids of Black Canyon. Mormons founded settlements along the Duchesne River Valley in the s, and populated the Little Colorado River valley later in the century, settling in towns such as St.

Johns, Arizona. These early settlers were impressed by the extensive ruins of the Hohokam civilization that previously occupied the Gila River valley, and are said to have "envisioned their new agricultural civilization rising as the mythical phoenix bird from the ashes of Hohokam society". One of the main reasons the Mormons were able to colonize Arizona was the existence of Jacob Hamblin 's ferry across the Colorado at Lee's Ferry then known as Pahreah Crossing , which began running in March John Doyle Lee established a more permanent ferry system at the site in One reason Lee chose to run the ferry was to flee from Mormon leaders who held him responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre , in which emigrants in a wagon train were killed by a local militia disguised as Native Americans.

Even though it was located along a major travel route, Lee's Ferry was very isolated, and there Lee and his family established the aptly named Lonely Dell Ranch. In , a group of adventurers from Georgia discovered gold along the Blue River in Colorado and established the mining boomtown of Breckenridge.

Mining remains a substantial contributor to the economy of the upper basin and has led to acid mine drainage problems in some regional streams and rivers.

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Prior to , the upper Colorado River above the confluence with the Green River in Utah had assumed various names. Through the mids, the river between Green River and the Gunnison River was most commonly known as the Grand River. The latter name did not become consistently applied until the s. In , U. Representative Edward T.

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Taylor saw the fact that the Colorado River started outside the border of his state as an "abomination". Meanwhile, large-scale development was also beginning on the opposite end of the Colorado River. In , entrepreneurs of the California Development Company CDC looked to the Imperial Valley of southern California as an excellent location to develop agriculture irrigated by the waters of the river.

Engineer George Chaffey was hired to design the Alamo Canal , which split off from the Colorado River near Pilot Knob , curved south into Mexico, and dumped into the Alamo River , a dry arroyo which had historically carried flood flows of the Colorado into the Salton Sink. With a stable year-round flow in the Alamo River, irrigators in the Imperial Valley were able to begin large-scale farming, and small towns in the region started to expand with the influx of job-seeking migrants.

It was not long before the Colorado River began to wreak havoc with its erratic flows. In autumn, the river would drop below the level of the canal inlet, and temporary brush diversion dams had to be constructed. In early , heavy floods destroyed the headworks of the canal, and water began to flow uncontrolled down the canal towards the Salton Sink. On August 9, the entire flow of the Colorado swerved into the canal and began to flood the bottom of the Imperial Valley. In a desperate gamble to close the breach, crews of the Southern Pacific Railroad , whose tracks ran through the valley, attempted to dam the Colorado above the canal, only to see their work demolished by a flash flood.

After the immediate flooding threat passed, it was realized that a more permanent solution would be needed to rein in the Colorado. In , six U. Each was given rights to 7. Hoover was the tallest dam in the world at the time of construction and also had the world's largest hydroelectric power plant. The All-American Canal, built as a permanent replacement for the Alamo Canal, is so named because it lies completely within the U. The Lower Basin states also sought to develop the Colorado for municipal supplies. Central Arizona initially relied on the Gila River and its tributaries through projects such as the Theodore Roosevelt and Coolidge Dams — completed in and , respectively.

Roosevelt was the first large dam constructed by the USBR and provided the water needed to start large-scale agricultural and urban development in the region. Nevada officials, believing that groundwater resources in the southern part of the state were sufficient for future growth, were more concerned with securing a large amount of the dam's power supply than water from the Colorado; thus they settled for the smallest allocation of all the states in the Colorado River Compact. Water use had increased significantly by the s, and more water was being diverted out of the Colorado River basin to the Front Range corridor, the Salt Lake City area in Utah, and the Rio Grande basin in New Mexico.

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There was also the concern that drought could impair the upper basin's ability to deliver the required 7. National Park Service and environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club. This was primarily because of Glen Canyon's remote location and the result that most of the American public did not even know of the existence of the impressive gorge; the few who did contended that it had much greater scenic value than Echo Park. Sierra Club leader David Brower fought the dam both during the construction and for many years afterwards until his death in Brower strongly believed that he was personally responsible for the failure to prevent Glen Canyon's flooding, calling it his "greatest mistake, greatest sin".

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Agricultural and urban growth in Arizona eventually outstripped the capacity of local rivers; these concerns were reflected in the creation of a Pacific Southwest Water Plan in the s, which aimed to build a project that would permit Arizona to fully utilize its 2. The Pacific Southwest Water Plan was the first major proposal to divert water to the Colorado Basin from other river basins — namely, from the wetter northwestern United States.

It was intended to boost supplies for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as well as Mexico, thus allowing the Upper Basin states to retain native Colorado River flows for their own use. Although there was still a surplus of water in the Colorado Basin during the midth century, the Bureau of Reclamation predicted, correctly, that eventually population growth would outstrip the available supply and require the transfer of water from other sources. The original version of the plan proposed to divert water from the Trinity River in northern California to reduce Southern California's dependence on the Colorado, allowing more water to be pumped, by exchange, to central Arizona.

Because of the large amount of power that would be required to pump Colorado River water to Arizona, the CAP originally included provisions for hydroelectric dams at Bridge Canyon and Marble Canyon , which would have flooded large portions of the Colorado within the Grand Canyon and dewatered much of the remainder. As a result, the Grand Canyon dams were removed from the CAP agenda, the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park were extended to preclude any further development in the area, and the pumping power was replaced by the building of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, in Various estimates place the time it would take for Powell to completely fill with silt at to years.

Dams trapping sediment not only pose damage to river habitat but also threaten future operations of the Colorado River reservoir system. Historically, the delta with its large freshwater outflow and extensive salt marshes provided an important breeding ground for aquatic species in the Gulf. Today's desiccated delta, at only a fraction of its former size, no longer provides suitable habitat, and populations of fish, shrimp and sea mammals in the gulf have seen a dramatic decline.

Reduced flows have led to increases in the concentration of certain substances in the lower river that have impacted water quality.


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Salinity is one of the major issues and also leads to the corrosion of pipelines in agricultural and urban areas. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act was passed in , mandating conservation practices including the reduction of saline drainage.

The program reduced the annual load by about 1. Further efforts have been made to combat the salt issue in the lower Colorado, including the construction of a desalination plant at Yuma. Agricultural runoff containing pesticide residues has also been concentrated in the lower river in greater amounts. This has led to fish kills; six of these events were recorded between and alone.

Both rivers and the sea are among the most polluted bodies of water in the United States, posing dangers not only to aquatic life but to contact by humans and migrating birds. Large dams such as Hoover and Glen Canyon typically release water from lower levels of their reservoirs, resulting in stable and relatively cold year-round temperatures in long reaches of the river. In November , the U.

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The water will be used to provide both an annual base flow and a spring "pulse flow" to mimic the river's original snowmelt-driven regime. When the Colorado River Compact was drafted in the s, it was based on barely 30 years of streamflow records that suggested an average annual flow of In late , Lake Mead dropped to just 8 feet 2. The Colorado River and its tributaries often nourish extensive corridors of riparian growth as they traverse the arid desert regions of the watershed.

Although riparian zones represent a relatively small proportion of the basin and have been affected by engineering projects and river diversion in many places, they have the greatest biodiversity of any habitat in the basin.

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More than 1, species of plants grow in the Colorado River watershed, ranging from the creosote bush , saguaro cactus , and Joshua trees of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts to the forests of the Rocky Mountains and other uplands, composed mainly of ponderosa pine , subalpine fir , Douglas-fir and Engelmann spruce. Some arid regions of the watershed, such as the upper Green River valley in Wyoming, Canyonlands National Park in Utah and the San Pedro River valley in Arizona and Sonora, supported extensive reaches of grassland roamed by large mammals such as buffalo and antelope as late as the s.

Near Tucson, Arizona, "where now there is only powder-dry desert, the grass once reached as high as the head of a man on horse back". Rivers and streams in the Colorado basin were once home to 49 species of native fish, of which 42 were endemic. Engineering projects and river regulation have led to the extinction of four species and severe declines in the populations of 40 species.

Clear, cold water released by dams has significantly changed characteristics of habitat for these and other Colorado River basin fishes. Famed for its dramatic rapids and canyons, the Colorado is one of the most desirable whitewater rivers in the United States, and its Grand Canyon section — run by more than 22, people annually [] — has been called the "granddaddy of rafting trips". Several other sections of the river and its tributaries are popular whitewater runs, and many of these are also served by commercial outfitters.


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The Colorado's Cataract Canyon and many reaches in the Colorado headwaters are even more heavily used than the Grand Canyon, and about 60, boaters run a single 4. Eleven U. Fisheries have declined in many streams in the watershed, especially in the Rocky Mountains, because of polluted runoff from mining and agricultural activities.