Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Farmer and the Cowboy Should Be Friends (of the Environment)

Ken's Lake, near Moab, Utah, with the La Sal Range in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
In early October 2011, I made my annual fall pilgrimage to Moab, Utah. Having lived there for three months in the fall of 2005, I knew that October weather in Moab was unpredictable. After the first cold front of the season blew in with me, I was surprised at how quickly weather in the Spanish Valley returned to its default position, which is Indian summer.


Lone angler paddles across Ken's Lake in October 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)


On October 6, 2011, it was sunny in the valley, yet storm clouds still hung on the peaks of the La Sal Range. What better day could I find to visit Ken’s Lake, out on Poverty Flat, near the head of the Spanish Valley?


When I arrived, I saw a few campers in the campground, yet on only one boat floating upon the lake. As I watched, I could see the oarsman rowing his pontoon-style fishing boat towards shore. Although I stood no further than thirty feet from where he made landfall, the old angler never looked up or acknowledged my presence.


Only when I asked him why the lake was so high this year did he speak. He gave me a few matter-of-fact sentences, telling me all that I needed to know. “It was a good snow year. There was still snow on the north-facing slopes until August. The slower snowmelt this year kept filling the lake, even Ken's Lake, Moab, Utah, with a storm clearing in the La Sal Range above - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)as irrigation water flowed from the dam. Still, it hasn’t rained much lately and the lake is a lot lower than it was just a few weeks ago.” After I thanked him for the information, he returned to his silent mode, placed his boat on a small trailer and drove away without another word.


After he departed, I marveled at the differences I could see from just one year earlier, in October 2010. When I wrote an article about that visit, I called it “Ken’s Puddle”, which is what it looked like to me. At that time, I suggested that farmers and others who shared in Ken’s Lake water might want to look towards conservation of this resource, rather than exploitation. Did my words and wishes have some positive effect on water levels in the lake? On the other hand, did fewer regional dust storms this year keep more snow in the higher reaches of the La Sal Range watershed until later in the season?


Ken's Lake, with abundant water in October 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Cynics would say that those entitled to shares of Ken’s Lake Water took every drop that they could get this year. Redemption came only when Mother Nature replenished the water faster than the outfall pipe carried it away to crops and cattle. I prefer to think that even those who are “entitled” are conserving more and using less of those sacred waters. By his demeanor, I would guess that the lone angler I saw that day was a longtime Moab rancher or farmer. By not drawing his full share of Ken’s Lake water this year; did he help Ken’s Lake to remain one of the few cold-water fisheries in Southeastern Utah?

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