Mistaken Prediction #7

When we try to predict the future, we often allow our assumptions to argue for our own limitations, sometimes at our peril. In this series of Mistaken Predictions, we deride predictions that close our minds to the future and celebrate our collective visions that allowed us to imagine alternative scenarios. Equipped with tools that open us to near limitless options, we cheer the fact that the future is inherently unpredictable.


“Ours has been the first [expedition], and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.”
~ Lt. Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.

Ives couldn’t have fathomed that more than a century later, five million people annually visit this “profitless locality,” by car, foot, air, and on the Colorado River itself.

John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran set off on a bold and pioneering expedition to fully map the Colorado as it wended its way through the Grand Canyon. The journey was a death-defying undertaking in the fragile wooden dories of the days. Less than a hundred miles into the trip, one of the expedition’s boats had already been smashed, taking with it much of their food supply. Yet, Powell and his team persevered for 99 days, putting the Grand Canyon on the map of the US for the first time.

Soon, Powell was being celebrated as a national hero. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, he made the famous remark: “The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you.” In 1919, it would become a national Park.

Although John Wesley Powell started a cascade of interest in the the Grand Canyon, he himself was wary of development around it. He prophesied that water shortages would be a major issue if the population of the American West soared too high. Powell would soon turn out to be right. By the turn of the 20th Century, some of the world’s most colossal engineering projects were in motion to dam and divert the Colorado River to help quench the water needs of rapidly expanding Western cities.

The result is that today some 10 dams and 80 diversions have turned the Colordao into a vast plumbing works, the natural flow that John Wesley Powell witnessed now completely regulated to the point that the river’s mouth – once a vibrant wetlands at the Sea of Cortez – has run bone dry.

Before the huge Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963, the river carried 5000, 000 tons of silt and sediment in a single day. now, 95% of those nutrient filled sediments are trapped by the dam. The river runs clear and cold, which makes it less friendly to life.  River otters, muskrats, native birds, lizards and frogs are rabidly disappearing.

Source: River at Risk

Organizations of interest:

Waterkeeper Alliance

Glen Canyon Institute – dedicated to restoring a healthy Colorado River


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