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Returning Rapids Project Presentation 2/18/2021 with Mike DeHoff

jayfromtexas

Active Member
Hi Everybody,
Thought I would post this link just in case anyone cared to view it. This is a presentation to a Dolores river group by Mike DeHoff of the Returning Rapids Project. Gives you an idea of what has been going on beyond the Upper Reaches of Lake Powell as the water receded.
Jay Henderson

Attn: JFRCalifornia, Dworwood and any others who may possibly be interested.
 

scubatim

Well-Known Member
Hi Everybody,
Thought I would post this link just in case anyone cared to view it. This is a presentation to a Dolores river group by Mike DeHoff of the Returning Rapids Project. Gives you an idea of what has been going on beyond the Upper Reaches of Lake Powell as the water receded.
Jay Henderson

Attn: JFRCalifornia, Dworwood and any others who may possibly be interested.
Very nice - never before seen old pics!!! Yes we are mining the water and leaving the sediment - just as designed., and the entire population of the Southwest is better for it. If the drainers would win - this is just the upper north end delta - many smaller ones in the tributaries. And, after 50+ years of saturation - the stability of the canyon rock walls would be very unstable = many "natural" rockfalls, slumps and more mud flats. The canyon - like it or not - can never be put back to it's pre-dam "natural" state. Thx for the video find - brings back some great old memories!!
 

DLetner

Member
I guess I am lost on their whole intent. Are they hoping to keep water levels low or encourage some sort of environmental emergency to not allow the lake to fill? Kind of a hard fight to make when it comes to either supplying water for millions or allow a few people to have a place to play. The lake is very necessary and needed. The people who live this fantasy life hoping for another place to raft are what has caused California to be in the bad shape it is in now. This kind of thinking is causes problems for all those in need of life sustaining water so that others have a place to play. Maybe (hopefully that is) I am not understanding their purpose in this whole video.
 

woodhead

Active Member
That’s a really cool video. One of my many thoughts was what was his proposal for water? Are we not to live in the desert at all. He is ok with draining lake powell so he can get back a few rapids but at the expense of our water storage and boating recreation? Really cool video though and if you have ever flown over powell in the spring you can actually see those barge loads of silt creeping down the lake.
 

jayfromtexas

Active Member
Was quite interested to see how y'all would react to Mike's presentation. It is interesting I think, to ponder what was once under the waters of Lake Powell. Draining it is a fantastic idea. Now, now don't be mad at me yet, cause by a fantastic idea I mean it is an idea that should remain a fantasy. As cool as it would be to have Glen Canyon back, draining Lake Powell just isn't very practical.
There are two drawbacks that, once taken into consideration, should put the idea into a watery grave. These are: the water and the silt. How do we replace the water? The southwest needs its water and Lake Powell, while not the most efficient place to store it, is already there. The second is, if you take out the Dam where does all that silt go? I imagine all the silt trapped behind Glen Canyon Dam would most likely continue downstream and build up in Lake Mead and create another muddy problem. Glen Canyon Dam is a great silt trap and that's what it will remain.
 

Dworwood

Well-Known Member
I would not trade the lake for the river ever. There are lots of rivers and there is only one Lake Powell. Nothing wrong with dreamers but that one is a pipe dream. I hope we never take away all of the great accomplishments our forefathers did for us that can never be repeated today. Don’t mind folks from other states moving in as long as they understand our one rule, you don’t change our rules! I am going to take heat for that but thats where the conflicts come from in our small towns. No more horses on the streets, no 4 X 4’s on the streets, kennel your dogs and on and on. Sorry for the rant, oh I forgot one, and let’s drain the lake! 🙂 One more thought, they are only comparing the last 60 years, I wonder what it looked like 120, 180, and 240 years ago? This land scape is always changing In the Grand Canyon.
Can’t wait for the responses. Much smarter people out there than me.
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Very interesting video, and lots of great photos and diagrams. Thanks for sharing!! The most interesting of all are the great closeups of the White Canyon area before the dam and today. It really mirrors a separate recent thread on this site about what happened to Fort Moqui, because this video illustrates that discussion perfectly. It's hard to imagine 150 feet of silt and mud built up anywhere, but there it is in photos, and yes, that blob of silt deposition (the "delta") is slowly moving downstream, and will continue to do so. Pretty amazing to see the power of a river, and such a huge evolution over a short period of time.

Now there is the separate question of what to do (if anything) moving forward. You have to start with the fact is that Glen Canyon Dam is there, and has been for decades. Changing the status quo is always an iffy proposition with lots of unintended consequences, something as true today as it was in 1963. There were great reasons for the dam, and although those reasons are still there, many other factors are now in play that were never seriously considered, or even imagined, in part related to the pace of the filling of the canyon from the head, and in part related to changing environmental values, at least among a good portion of the populous. When the dam was built, USBR estimated it would take 700 years to fill Lake Powell with sediment, and that may turn out to be accurate. Of course, none of us will be alive then, so that means it's far beyond the threshold of political or generational thought, which is why it's unlikely that the dam will be going anywhere anytime soon if ever. But in the great span of time, Glen Canyon will eventually become a massive mudflat at more or less 3700 feet with a meandering river across the top that carves through a wide swath of mud, alternating meanders with small waterfalls where the strata is tougher, behind which will be perched pools. Imagine the entire lake looking something like the kind of scene you see today from White Canyon to Hite, with North Wash perched like a mini-lake behind a silt dam, and walls of silt and mud lining the shores. That will be Glen Canyon in a thousand years and beyond, with the dam itself forming a huge manmade (and spectacular) waterfall.

This is not a judgment on my part, just a hydrologic fact, and that will be the long-term outcome of Glen Canyon. Maybe in a thousand years there will no longer be any need for water storage or power from the dam, but the point will be moot anyway, because there will no longer be either whether or not we need it at that time. As sure as the sun rises, the reservoir storage capacity will continue to decline. It already has--as originally designed, Lake Powell could hold 27 maf, but today, because of sedimentation, we're down to a little over 24 maf, or about 10% of the original capacity taken up by silt in about 58 years. That's an amazing and humbling thought. It's also basically consistent with USBR's prediction of 700 years, because if you extrapolate that rate of capacity loss over time as a constant (might be a bad assumption), you end up will full siltation happening in about 600 years more or less.

And yet, the lake is here to enjoy and use and benefit from right now, and will be here in one form or another for generations. But the truth is that Lake Powell is just a fleeting moment in the long arc of time. As our human needs change, and other ways to find water and power emerge, or if population patterns shift, the immediate need for those aspects of Lake Powell might diminish or even go altogether. We're not there yet, but it's foreseeable. But it's the modern recreational aspect that will be lost for good if the lake goes away. Good or bad? A debatable topic. Bad for most of us on this forum who like to fish or swim or boat. But I can make a solid argument in the other direction too. Maybe that discussion is far down the river, so to speak, but it's out there in the future somewhere.

For me personally, the existence of Lake Powell has always been the most fascinating meeting of human engineering and the natural world. It's rare to be able to measure the benefits and consequences of that kind of meeting in real time, but here we have it. I'm conflicted. Like all (most?) of you, I love going to Lake Powell. It's an endless source of interest and fascination for me. It's a place I know very well, as do most on this forum. And we've all seen it change a lot over time, for better or worse it's hard to say. Now I'm not Katie Lee--I didn't live and breathe and smell and hear and see Glen Canyon before the dam, so I don't have the same visceral emotional connection to a place that disappeared that she did. I can't feel the same sadness as she did. But I sure do understand it...

Thanks again for sharing that video--great food for thought!
 
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KYKevin

Well-Known Member
I knew I was very lucky to be able to fish and boat on such an awesome lake, but after reading JFRCalifornia, I feel ten time's as lucky. but I had already felt the sadness, maybe not to the extent of Katie Lee, but sadness this year, when I realized there were hump's and gravel bar's that held many of fish, that we would probably never see on a graph or fish again. But then that is just from the fishing point of view, there are so many other view's from so many people like Dworwood said, that are a lot smarter then us normal folk's who just want to Fish and recreate on this AWESOME lake.
I knew after boating and fishing lake Powell for a few year's, that I was home in Utah and was never going to go back to Kentucky where I called home for most of my 40 year's here. Now mostly because of this great lake, I call Utah home.
And who know's with technology maybe we are all wrong with thinking there are nothing they can do, I mean they are doing thing's on Mar's, maybe they will take the silt there or to the moon and fill in the pot hole's;)
This was a very good read, and thank's, for the thought all so.
 

jayfromtexas

Active Member
I hope none of you get me wrong. I love Lake Powell. It really is a jewel. I also love how it fluctuates and seeing the river come back a bit in lower Cataract Canyon is a pleasure. On the other hand I realize that without this great Lake I would have never had the opportunity to see Rainbow Bridge, Hole in the Rock or even the Cathedral of the Desert. And yes if you think about it in the long run Glen Canyon Dam was just a giant silt trap.
 

Dorado

Well-Known Member
I enjoyed that. I plan on enjoying LP for as long as I can. I find the siltation and strange hydrology that has resulted in the deltas around the Upper Colorado and San Juan Rivers to be fascinating and more than a little creepy. I wonder at what water levels the siltation will reach the upper GHB area?
 

JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
I enjoyed that. I plan on enjoying LP for as long as I can. I find the siltation and strange hydrology that has resulted in the deltas around the Upper Colorado and San Juan Rivers to be fascinating and more than a little creepy. I wonder at what water levels the siltation will reach the upper GHB area?
Great question. I'm sure a hydrologist could figure this out with calculus and models, but it's not hard to make an educated guess just by looking at historic aerials on Google Earth.

It's clear that in August 2004, the tongue of the silt delta reached down to about midway between Hite Marina and White Canyon, which is to say, about 2 miles below the marina site. The lake was at 3574 then. That's quite a lot of siltation even then, because before the lake, the river flowed freely past that spot at about 3450, so already more than 100 feet of silt had been deposited since the lake first reached the Hite area in mid-1964.

And what has happened since? Well, the March 2016 aerial (lake level 3593) shows the end of the delta somewhere between White Canyon and Trachyte, an advance of about 3 miles since 2004--and that's with the lake nearly 20 feet higher! So the reality is that if the lake were at the same level as in August 2004--which it is today--you'd be able to make a more accurate observation about the rate of advance of the silt. Anybody who has been up in that part of the lake in the past month (I haven't) can make a direct observation, but I think I've heard reports on this site that it gets pretty shallow and gooey somewhere around the mouth of Trachyte. Assuming that's true, that means that at the exact same lake level (comparing August 2004 to early 2021), silt has advanced and filled in about 4+ miles between the midway point of Hite/White and the mouth of Trachyte. So there's a measurable rate of advance right there.

Now the channel narrows a bit between Trachyte and the Horn, and actually all the way down to GHB, so you can imagine the silt when deposited can't fan out as much in that stretch, so it's going to fill the main channel through there a bit faster than above Trachyte. But let's say the rate is the same. It's little over 8 miles from Trachyte to Castle Butte, more or less the beginning of GHB. If we filled in the 4 miles above Trachyte in 16 years or so (same lake level), it might take another 30 years to fill in the distance from Trachyte to the top of GHB, assuming a lake level similar to today. That means it reaches the beginning of GHB somewhere around 2050.

That said, if the lake is ever higher in the future past 2050 than what it is today, the lake will still back up over some of the accumulated silt, and in the stretch just above GHB, it will just be very shallow and milky... (kind of like what we saw happen in the Hite area in 2011, when the lake reached 3660)...

And yes, this same dynamic is playing out in the same way on both the San Juan and Escalante. The changes on the San Juan are well known and dramatic, but it's also true to a lesser extent on the Escalante. For example, the area near the mouth of Explorer Canyon, which was easily reachable by boat in 2006 (when it was only 3604), is now a messy mudflat. From aerials, you can see that the silt delta there had already reached just beyond the mouth of Explorer by 2013, when the lake was at 3598, not too much different than the 2006 lake level when it was free flowing past that point... And a February 2017 image (lake level 3595) shows the silt had already reached nearly to Three Roof Ruin, more than a mile below the mouth of Explorer, and only about a mile above the mouth of Willow Creek! So expect that rate of creep to continue in the Escalante too...
 
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JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Good info JFR!! But purely speculating - with increased populations and demand - how many new reservoirs will need to be built above LP??? (And in Cali itself) These new silt traps will slow the accretion in LP. Imagine still boating/fishing in Good Hope Bay - 3oo years from now!!! :<) :<) !!
There's always an undercurrent out there that we can build more dams to solve water supply problems. But that's only true if there are good sites for dams and lots of water to fill those reservoirs that cannot already be impounded elsewhere in existing reservoirs downstream of those sites. In the case of the Colorado River system, the entire water supply is already accounted for before it reaches the Sea of Cortez (the river rarely ever reaches there anymore), so we need more snow and rain in the Rockies and the SW in general for that idea to work. As it is, that's not happening, and so there's not a lot of point in building new dams upstream of Lake Powell, because those existing reservoirs up there (notably Flaming Gorge and others) are rarely full for long, and when they are full can easily release water downstream to Lake Powell. They also impound so little volume compared to Powell, which hasn't been full in more than 20 years. More dams and reservoirs would simply distribute the upstream water into more (and smaller) impoundments for little gain, but possibly a lot of environmental disruption and certainly a lot of money spent. And ultimately, more dams contribute to hydrological problems downstream in one form or another, including the fact that silt deposition doesn't occur, which has habitat, bank stabilization and erosional implications, not to mention water temperature changes that affect fisheries, mostly away from native species. Perhaps not everyone cares about those things, but in the big picture, those are important from a sustainability standpoint, which relates to maintenance, which relates to cost.

Same story in California, since you asked. Many people seem to think that there just aren't enough reservoirs on the rivers running out of the Sierra. If only there were more dams, the story goes. With few exceptions, most all those rivers already have one reservoir or more, whether for power, water supply, irrigation, recreation, or flood control--or all those reasons. There's really few if any remaining good sites for useful (key word: "useful") dams in CA, except perhaps on some wild and scenic rivers in the NW corner of the state, where water supply is less of an issue. In CA, the annual water regime is extreme--it mostly depends on good Sierra snowpack over the winter, and most of the water that is impounded is already accounted for by downstream users, mostly through either the State Water Project or Central Valley Project. Groundwater is already heavily overused, especially in the irrigated southern San Joaquin Valley.

The essential issue in CA is that there are 40 million people living there, but even more critically, that it is by far the #1 AG producer in the nation, and a lot of that relies on irrigation. 80+/-% of the water use in CA goes to agriculture, and since we all like to eat fruits, vegetables and nuts that come from CA, that's not changing any time soon, unless we collectively stop liking oranges, berries, almonds, grapes, lettuce, etc...

And to tie those two threads together--Colorado River and CA water use--relatively little of CA's overall water use comes from the Colorado River, and most of that goes to irrigate crops in the Imperial Valley, with a little used for municipal uses in southern California. CA is already cutting back on Colorado River water use per recent protocols with the other basin states, but again this has very little effect on the big picture of water supply and demand in CA.

The future there (and elsewhere in the southwest really) includes a combination of recycled water (toilet to tap), desalination of sea water (for CA at least), more aggressive conservation practices, continued realistic use of existing water supplies, with less reliance on overdrafted groundwater basins. That's on the supply side. But it's much harder to control the demand side, when people keep moving to the attractive SW states from elsewhere and housing supplies increase to meet that demand without thinking through the water supply issues first. No news there.

A hard puzzle to solve, but in a general sense, more dams aren't a realistic part of the solution.
 
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TR.

Well-Known Member
Thanks for Posting, truly fascinating. JFR you eloquently hit every point I was thinking in a way I never could, thanks. I can appreciate the thought process from the so-called drainers. As a river runner with way more than 10,000 river miles I can appreciate their point of view. I can also appreciate the beauty of what Lake Powell currently is. I have lost a number of good friends over the years with my love of “lake Fowell” and that’s ok. I have also made many friends that appreciate the lake like I do. One thing I have come to terms with is that this group of people are rabid in their beliefs, will never give up, and will never see the beauty I do. And they are a very small but vocal minority. Some of them will read this and hate me for it...I am ok with that. That is unfortunate for them. There are so many consequences of another big action such as draining the lake that their visceral hatred of the lake will never be able to take into account. I can’t change them so I have moved on to enjoy the lake and not try. Humans have changed the their environment throughout history, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but done nevertheless. I applaud them for standing up for their beliefs, however IMHO they are missing out on what is in front of them right now.

TR
 

Hillbilly

Active Member
Thanks for Posting, truly fascinating. JFR you eloquently hit every point I was thinking in a way I never could, thanks. I can appreciate the thought process from the so-called drainers. As a river runner with way more than 10,000 river miles I can appreciate their point of view. I can also appreciate the beauty of what Lake Powell currently is. I have lost a number of good friends over the years with my love of “lake Fowell” and that’s ok. I have also made many friends that appreciate the lake like I do. One thing I have come to terms with is that this group of people are rabid in their beliefs, will never give up, and will never see the beauty I do. And they are a very small but vocal minority. Some of them will read this and hate me for it...I am ok with that. That is unfortunate for them. There are so many consequences of another big action such as draining the lake that their visceral hatred of the lake will never be able to take into account. I can’t change them so I have moved on to enjoy the lake and not try. Humans have changed the their environment throughout history, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but done nevertheless. I applaud them for standing up for their beliefs, however IMHO they are missing out on what is in front of them right now.

TR
Well said, TR. I grew up hunting quail in the south, but they are mostly gone now, due to habitat loss. I had some great bird dogs and many fine memories, but I refuse to sit around crying over the loss. Instead, I simply moved on to other adventures. Sure Lake Powell covered up Glen Canyon, but thousands more people now get to enjoy the area than just a few hardy river runners. There are still plenty of rivers left to run, including the Colorado.
 
Here's some "food for thought" quite literally....

The 700+ year estimate for sediment fill is based on 100% capture. In reality, several mechanisms at play will likely to extend this time frame significantly. As some distant point in the future and in advance of the sediment front reaching the dam...fine sediment in suspension will begin to pass through the penstocks. Some time later, sediment will begin to accumulate at the base of the dam. At that point a decision could be made to open one or more of the river outlet tubes to bypass medium grain sediment while still operating the upper penstocks. Eventually, the river outlet tubes might become overwhelmed which would then shift sediment control to the variable depth penstock intakes. At such time when the penstocks cease operation, sediment management could be accomplished using one of more of the spillways at certain times of the year. Collectively, these strategies are likely to significantly extend the so called sedimentation "dooms day" date by hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of years.

Keep in mind that the value of Lake Powell for recreation and as a fishery will far outlast it value for drought protection water storage vessel.

However, there's a BONUS VALUE to stored sediment that is rarely discussed. Don't forget that past flooding of the Colorado River flood dropped layers of sediment and created vastly important agricultural lands in southern Arizona and southern California. Eventually, farm productivity will drop at points downstream due to salt accumulation and no doubt future generations in need of food will look upstream for new agricultural opportunities. It's not a stretch to think the accumulated silt in Lake Powell could be eyed as source of "brown gold" triggering a rush to mine those sediments to create new farm fields in surrounding areas.

The other thing to consider is that shallow lakes are quite often productive lakes. Think back to the City of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) where the Aztecs practiced a from of lake agriculture known as chinampas. It's not a great leap to imagine a future for Lake Powell where flotillas of floating greenhouses take advantage of the water and silt to raise crops and supplement a variety fish farming operations.

The future need not scare us. All it takes is a little imagination and some engineering ingenuity. The outcome could very well be a future scenario where Lake Powell continues to provide not only recreation but also helps meet the agricultural needs for growing populations. Food for thought and something to chew on...
 

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JFRCalifornia

Well-Known Member
Here's some "food for thought" quite literally....

The 700+ year estimate for sediment fill is based on 100% capture. In reality, several mechanisms at play will likely to extend this time frame significantly. As some distant point in the future and in advance of the sediment front reaching the dam...fine sediment in suspension will begin to pass through the penstocks. Some time later, sediment will begin to accumulate at the base of the dam. At that point a decision could be made to open one or more of the river outlet tubes to bypass medium grain sediment while still operating the upper penstocks. Eventually, the river outlet tubes might become overwhelmed which would then shift sediment control to the variable depth penstock intakes. At such time when the penstocks cease operation, sediment management could be accomplished using one of more of the spillways at certain times of the year. Collectively, these strategies are likely to significantly extend the so called sedimentation "dooms day" date by hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of years.

Keep in mind that the value of Lake Powell for recreation and as a fishery will far outlast it value for drought protection water storage vessel.

However, there's a BONUS VALUE to stored sediment that is rarely discussed. Don't forget that past flooding of the Colorado River flood dropped layers of sediment and created vastly important agricultural lands in southern Arizona and southern California. Eventually, farm productivity will drop at points downstream due to salt accumulation and no doubt future generations in need of food will look upstream for new agricultural opportunities. It's not a stretch to think the accumulated silt in Lake Powell could be eyed as source of "brown gold" triggering a rush to mine those sediments to create new farm fields in surrounding areas.

The other thing to consider is that shallow lakes are quite often productive lakes. Think back to the City of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) where the Aztecs practiced a from of lake agriculture known as chinampas. It's not a great leap to imagine a future for Lake Powell where flotillas of floating greenhouses take advantage of the water and silt to raise crops and supplement a variety fish farming operations.

The future need not scare us. All it takes is a little imagination and some engineering ingenuity. The outcome could very well be a future scenario where Lake Powell continues to provide not only recreation but also helps meet the agricultural needs for growing populations. Food for thought and something to chew on...
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but improvisation is the offspring of its consequences.

It’s true that it might be possible to extend the life of Lake Powell through engineering ingenuity, but the basic truth of the future is that the lake will essentially be full of sediment one day. Whether that happens in 600, 700 or a thousand years or more doesn’t matter much. More to the point, I expect that the landscape (both human and natural) will be quite different a millennium from now, as will our needs and technologies available at that time. Lake Powell will certainly look and function differently, and quite possibly in ways we can’t easily foresee.

I do agree that sometime down the road, whatever is in Glen Canyon will not be useful for either water storage or power generation, which were the primary reasons the reservoir was conceived in the first place. Its recreational potential might be there in some fashion, although it’s hard to predict exactly how, but I can imagine a meandering river and series of pools, some of which extend into side canyons, but all of which would be flanked by silt built up hundreds of feet deep, on which the new version of the lake/river flows and cuts and continues to deposit. Will access be easy? Hard to say. Will the banks eventually stabilize? Quite possibly, and if they do that will be because of the most opportunistic and adaptable plants have taken root in that environment.

As for the “bonus value” of stored silt in Glen Canyon that could be exported for agricultural purposes, that’s an interesting idea to explore. But it’s not a very efficient one. I will say this: before the dam, the silt and floods that scoured the river and breached the banks are the main reason why there is all that fertile land in the Imperial Valley and anywhere in the low lying areas along the Colorado River near the AZ/CA border. Without that silt, those lands do not get re-nourished, and slowly are losing their productive value as the soils become more saline. The idea of exporting silt impounded by Glen Canyon Dam to create new ag lands sounds interesting, but it would be an incredible expenditure of energy, time, human thought, and money just to do the things that the river once did naturally on its own. Now I’m not saying I advocate removing the dam, far from it, but I am saying that the “bonus value” is somewhat of a red herring, in that you’d have to figure out a lot of things to make that idea work. Where are the “new” ag lands that could be created? Is there enough irrigation water for those lands? What could be grown in those places? And most importantly, is that venture—including all the needed supporting infrastructure—economically viable?

There are similar questions for the fish farm idea.

Those of course may all be easily solvable problems far in the future, or maybe not. Or maybe in a thousand years, none of that will be needed at all. Could the Anasazi have imagined the landscape of today? Doubtful. But yes, it’s important to think creatively right now, and as always, to play the cards you are dealt at that time. And right now, the hand we are playing is a modern Lake Powell that will surely change in the future. But yes, now is as good as time as any to think about that and consider the options, without any fear…

Good food for thought, for sure; thanks for the interesting ideas…
 
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jayfromtexas

Active Member
JFRCalifornia. Quick question. Has anyone at anytime ever considered building a marina down by Red canyon or in the Good Hope Bar area? My guess is they didn't because of the remoteness off the hwy 95. Also I suppose the proximity to Bullfrog and maybe issues with the landscape and the like. But with the siltation issue it would seem like a plausible location for a northern end "outpost". Just a thought.
 
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