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  • Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Strange Bedfellows

    Our Insidious Language
    just what good is the dam ?
    .. As water continues to gush from the breached head gate in Hebgen Dam we ponder some interesting topics that are not in the newspapers, or on television, or in the myriad blogs chattering about the story.
    .. If you've been asleep just Google-up Hebgen Dam in the news section. You'll be better informed than most. The last time this structure received so much publicity was in 1959 when an earthquake and mountain-slide caused water to back up the Madison River and threaten the dam. That event created Quake Lake.
    .. That instance resulted in the largest peace-time mobilization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They built a spillway channel to drain Quake Lake. [[ See the USGS Photo Library. ]]
    .. The Corps of Engineers has a widespread policy of referring to bodies of impounded water as "LAKES." [[ As does The Bureau of Reclamation and PPL Montana. ]]
    .. Thus we have incorporated into our vocabulary "Hebgen Lake." This insidious usage of the word lake conjures up images far different than does the word reservoir. The glories of recreation and beauty are seldom associated with a reservoir. There is method in their madness. We value lakes; we abide reservoirs.
    .. Real Estate Developers and Recreationists love lakes. Business thrives near lakes. Opportunities for wealth and success are enhanced by dams that build 'lakes' and provide economic stability and growth.
    .. Hebgen Dam impounds 278,562 acre feet of water in it's reservoir. It is 15 miles long on its southern end and over 4 miles wide at its widest point. Currently it is discharging 2,977.5 cfs of water that had been impounded. The Pool is 10 feet below capacity and the flood-surge control pool is 0.0% full. The reservoir provides no hydroelectric power, although several attempts have been made in the past to get a permit for doing so.
    .. As one of our neighbors was heard to remark, "It sure is a big puddle." The 'big puddle' is a boon to real estate developers, [[ see: LAKE FRONT MANOR and THE LAST BEST PLACE developments currently for sale. ]]
    .. The water front property is doing very well in a supposedly 'down market.' These opportunities are so new that their web pages are still under development. PPL Montana describes the reservoir as the premier still-water fishing lake in Montana.
    .. Fly fishers from across the globe come to fish the Madison River, both above and below the dam. A thriving industry depends on the dollars from these world traveling fly fishers. Feather merchants, tackle purveyors, guides, motels, restaurants, gas stations, trinket shops, photographers, outfitters, etc. all love Hebgen Dam.
    .. They love it because it keeps the fish downstream happy and catchable. They love it because its reservoir holds large numbers of large fish that are easily caught. They love it because the reservoir allows fish to leave Yellowstone National Park - grow large - and then return to be caught.
    .. Thus it is that, while currently, all across the country conservationists, environmentalists, and fishers are allied in the call to remove dams; our local voices are screaming for this dam to be repaired. AND QUICKLY - Please: there's still a few good weeks of money to be made.
    .. Around our isolated little community the neighbors, (they are the ones that live in town year 'round - not in country mansions, or summer cabins on the lake,) have some interestingly progressive views about a dam that is approaching its 100th birthday.
    .. They definitely do see the Madison River as 'broken.' In fact many of our neighbors see this as the first step in a discussion about the need for the dam - at all. And maybe fixing the river.
    .. Hebgen Dam is not a substantial structure. It will disappear, (in the near or distant future.) The reservoir already has silt problems. It is becoming shallow and producing more toxic algal blooms by the decade. The artificially enhanced fishery within the reservoir is maintained by muck loving insects in the stagnant shallows.
    .. There is currently some discussion of the possibility of removing the dam, while we can, and while we see the problems it has.
    .. One of our neighbors, only half in jest, suggested that the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, The Buffalo Field Campaign, Ducks Unlimited, and Green Peace could form an alliance that would bring the dam down in a heartbeat.
    .. There would be forage for migrating bison, wet lands for waterfowl, a free-flowing river for trout, and a reclaimed habitat for all wild creatures, great and small.
    .. The real estate developers would not like it much, nor would the lake front property owners. And judging by the cry to save the dam, neither would the regional fishing industry.
    .. You won't see this discussed in the papers, or on the television, or the blogs. You won't see it given much credence in the musty aisles of feather merchants and tackle purveyors. Not many folks will give it much attention nor will they take it seriously.
    .. Not, that is, until we abandon the idea that the reservoir is a lake and that river regulation is the way we should behave toward a treasure that was once unencumbered by a dam and several industries.
    .. The lush Hebgen Basin was once a beautiful valley. The homestead maps show many names that are still among our neighbors. The cultural and social memory is vivid about the beauty of the valley. Perhaps the dam will stay for the moment, but this too shall pass. and then the 'broken' river will finally be fixed.
    .. Then there will be about 20 more river miles of free flowing trout stream added to the Madison River. The South Fork of the Madison River will gain a couple of miles. Grayling Creek will not terminate in a bog. Duck Creek and Cougar Creek will be revitalized..
    .. Have you been to Spring Creek? It's only about 200 yards long and its native cutthroat population is nearly extinct.
    .. Would that we would live so long: it would be a great fishery!