I was intimidated. Actually, let me be honest, I feared a thrashing at the hands of the River God. Trembling muscles warned me to just shoulder my boat and walk. I couldn't. I traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to run these rivers, how could I back out now? I had to run Sunshine Falls...the largest rapid on the Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River. When would I make it back to Colorado to run this river? I considered the the portage again; it's an impressive drop with no shame in walking. But what if they dam the Arkansas?
I had the pleasure of kayaking about fifteen miles of the Arkansas river, in Colorado, this summer. Flowing from its headwaters near Buena Vista, the Arkansas is a virgin river. Only a trickle during the winter, "The Ark," is reborn every spring with the life bearing waters of fresh mountain snow melt. The greening of river valleys throughout Colorado occurs during the month of June, and traveling from the east I realized how vital the snowmelt waters are to life in the western United States. Without water, something which we take for granted even in brutal summers, life in the west is a struggle.
Now the struggle for the Arkansas begins. Plans to dam the river below the Royal Gorge are pending. Devastating. I can't imagine the powerful currents of the Arkansas trapped behind an enormous wall of concrete. I find it hard to justify the damming of the Arkansas. It defines recreation for central Colorado.
Kayakers, rafters, and fishermen flock to the Ark for much of the summer. However, Colorado is a state with rapid population growth. People need water reservoirs and electricity from somewhere. Should the Arkansas be one of those sources?
I now realize the magnitude of what is at stake not only on the Arkansas, but also on all of the rivers which are in danger of becoming - - or are presently - - dammed. The adverse effects which dams have upon the environment, cultures and communities, fisheries, and recreation have all been acknowledged since the publication of Edward Goldsmith and Nicholas Hildyard's The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams (1986). While these detriments have been acknowledged, and increased awareness has brought about the halt of many dam projects . . . dams are still very much a reality. Because there are many dams which will never be removed or prevented in our lifetime, we must concentrate on decreasing the harms which they cause.
Perhaps the most obvious way in wehich to prevent some of the dangers of dams is to control release schedules. Release schedules are responsible for many of the problems with fishery depletion, increased erosion, and boating controversies. One of the major hurdles which we must address, however, is how to resolve conflict within our own movement on the handling of these water release issues. Factions of environmentalists and fisheries people, such as Kyle Radigan (1991), are in favor of constant, moderate...