I suddenly start sobbing. „No way, this can’t be… is this? Really? No way!“ I keep repeating words like that over and over again. I am sitting in my packraft, looking down past the crest of Imperial Dam. Below, there is a little green lake, and then a small creek exiting it shyly in between some high reeds. The Colorado River? Really? The same river that has washed me through raging rapids in Grand Canyon only a few weeks ago?
I did not expect this. As much as I have read about it, I did not expect to see it from here, this very moment and from this perspective. But maybe there is just no way to actually be prepared for this after spending almost three months with the Colorado River. I know that this is not the end of the river, but it sure feels like a very abrupt and brutal change. To the left of me, there is the irrigation canal taking water to farms in Arizona. And to the right there is the infamous All American Canal, taking water to the farms of California. What a cynical name. Is it so „all American“ to kill this river?
The All American Canal, takes the largest portion of water out of the Colorado for farms in California
On the other side of the river this canal takes water to farms in Arizona
And really, is it necessary to take out all this much, to feed the farms? I am all for growing vegetables and feeding cattle, and I know how important this agriculture is, not only for the region but for supplying this entire country with fresh produce, especially in winter. And everyone needs the power created by all those dams and all of those other human needs. But I can’t help but think: And what about the river itself? Does it really have no rights at all?
I am not an esoteric. I am not even very spiritual. But I know this: The Colorado River has a life of its own. I know that, because I have been around it for a while now. And I have heard all the different voices and felt all it’s characteristics and tempers, it’s rage and it’s sweetness.
What happens here seems like a greedy act against all of nature’s needs. It is so selfish. It makes me sick. Nothing about this is taking into account, that all of this doesn’t only belong to us, but that we are also here to care of the environment and to act upon the responsibility we have assumed by being here too. We can not only reap all the benefits from this planet at any cost and not consider what comes after us. I hate this system with a passion right now. I hate us humans for being as greedy as we are.
I sit there in my little yellow packraft, bawling my eyes out. When a motorboat passes me, I put my sunglasses back on and immediately wonder: why am I ashamed of this? Shouldn’t everyone be crying at this sight? Shouldn’t I keep crying, just for people to ask if they can help me and so I can then tell them to shut down their fucking motors and listen to this river or if they can’t hear the river, at least listen to me? And for me to then tell them how incredibly sad this sight is, when knowing this river the way I do by now?
Tomorrow it will get worse. I am bracing myself for that. Tomorrow I will get down into that little stream and paddle it all the way to Morales Dam at the border of Mexico. And that is where the river really dies. It seems like it has been dying all kinds of deaths up until here. In a way it has started dying up at Glen Canyon Dam. Then it has lived again for an incredible stretch through the Grand Canyon, and then died some more at Hoover Dam. Since there it has died a little death at every dam coming down to here.
I wipe my face with the sleeve of my shirt and curiously think that I should really do a laundry again soon. More water. Then I take a sip from my bottle and again, more water. I will never think about water the same way again after this trip. That much I already know. And here and now, as I stare into the abyss of the dying Colorado River, I make a pledge to treat water responsibly and with respect, to value and cherish it from here on out and for the rest of my life. Because it is a finite resource and we need to be aware of that.
I can not take another interview with another dam advocate who tells me about the greatness and efficiency of the structure. But I don’t know that until I stand next to Bob Willis, an employee of the Imperial Irrigation District, who does just that. We stand on the terrace overlooking the diversion dam, the all American canal and the adjacent desilting works. I listen and nod. My questions are awkward, hesitant, numb. But Bob has no idea what is going on in my mind and he keeps going on and on, telling me how it was the main objective to divert all this water, because otherwise it would be “lost”. This is where it starts screaming in my head: Lost??? To what? Lost only to the greed of is country! What about Mexico? What about the rivers delta? What about the river itself?
I have no energy to argue. It has been sucked out of me like, the straws have sucked water out of the river. Theses last days, and the endless pointless conversations I have had are taking their toll. And by now I know from experience, that my kind of reasoning is out of place and superfluous here. So I shake Bobs hand instead and thank him for talking to me, like I have done so many time before.
Then I go back to my tent, that I have set up at on the very green grass of the BLM campsite right next to the dam. It is maintained by the Imperial Irrigation District and they irrigate it every Tuesday, as the sign happily tells me. I would happily do without the scent of this lush green, if only I could have its weekly water back in the river below the dam. But I guess I am the only one with that opinion around here.