High Desert Hoofbeats
Dry Fourth of July

Uncharted territory. That’s what an outdoors organization has called the current environmental conditions of the southwestern United States as it relates to water levels and weather forecasts.

Trout Unlimited in a recent press release applauded efforts of southeastern Utah farmers and ranchers who have been interested in participating in a conservation pilot program in the Upper Colorado River Basin that would pay them for not using water. But that program, though designed to enhance flows into Lake Powell, has been suspended while water managers take a harder look at our dire straits. The program, funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and several major municipal water providers, will instead “try to solve accounting, managing, and a long-term demand-management program to protect critical levels at Lake Powell.” The statement from TU continued, “So far, 2018 has been a near-record dry year. Current projections put both Powell and Mead at less than 50 percent capacity by the end of the water year.” The same is true for McPhee Reservoir in southwestern Colorado, and nearly every other body of water in the extended Four Corners area.

Is this a new normal in our water-starved parts? While ranchers may be the first hit in this bleak and scary drought, we all will likely be affected.

Grand Water and Sewer Agency board members, due to no fault of their own, have had nothing but bad news to report since early spring. Most of us have been feeling these omens since fall, when the snow did not come, and later in winter when it still did not come. Spring did not bring us April showers for May flowers. And our first early monsoon storm that pushed up from Hurricane Bud a week ago missed the valley entirely, but thankfully helped to douse a few flames in the forest fires near Durango.

I, like probably many of you, click on the extended weather forecast on my smart phone every day, hoping to view images besides sun and wind, but alas, a straight line of orange dots is all I see.

I feel grim about this, and as I visit with others around town, they seem to feel oppressed by our conditions, too. Who wouldn’t be? I hesitate to take a trip to the mountains, even to cool off, only to see wilting grasses and flowers, and prime fire conditions. My husband and I did get to Geyser Pass a couple of weeks ago, just in time to see the fading glory of wild iris, whose masses of purple and lavender wandered off Boren Mesa into the already-dry drainages that are supposed to feed the Oowah Lake basin. The plants had put on their blossomy faces, but I knew they were terribly thirsty and would only last a few more days.

Fire danger and lack of water are reaching new critical records.

The Cinema Court Fire gave us early warning of how much danger we are in, and how much we have at stake as a community. It makes me wonder that if such a conflagration could happen on a mid-June day–apparently caused by a person–how can we survive the sparks of Fourth of July and Pioneer Day?

Law enforcement officials have offered a reward for tips that point to who started the Cinema Court fire. When the reward was first set at $500, I thought it was a paltry sum in comparison to the properties that were lost, the people that were displaced, and the forces that worked tirelessly to put out the blaze. Last I heard the amount had been increased to $1,000, which I still think is a small amount. It’s likely that friends and family of the perpetrators—whether caused by accident or on purpose, a mature person or a child—may not want to tattle on their acquaintances. And really, much as we all want to know what act of stupidity or carelessness caused it, it won’t bring back the homes that were lost, some of which weren’t insured.

Civic announcements confirm that Moab residents will be able to see a beautiful fireworks display on the evening of the Fourth of July, courtesy of pooled county and city funding. I’ve always enjoyed the fireworks, but the Independence Day holiday has held the most meaning for me when I’ve gone to park festivities, floated the river or climbed a peak.

Community leaders are imploring people to abstain from shooting off their own fireworks this year. Restrictions are about as tough as local, state and federal managers can implement, but rules alone don’t keep people from enjoying their own traditions of playing with fire and explosives.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Let this holiday remind us that we are a community that needs to protect and respect one another, as we move into the uncharted territory ahead.

ByBy Sena Taylor Hauer