Outside magazine, January 1998
Though you won't find mention of it in your local papers, Congress recently began debating legislation known as the Glen Canyon Restoration Act. However, the controversial new bill, inspired by the Sierra Club's visionary plan to drain Arizona's vast, man-made Lake Powell, overlooks one small detail: how to make 26 million acre-feet of water vanish overnight. Hence our call for the formation of the Senate Public Works Oversight Committee's Emergency Select Subcommittee on Deep Water Dispersal Preparedness, cochaired by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jesse Helms of North Carolina. (Think it couldn't happen? Remember, it was the folks in Congress who voted to submerge the canyon in the first place.) Herewith, a hearing transcript.
Senator Helms: Before we call witnesses — there's got to be some scriptural precedent here. Just find in the Good Book where 26 million acre-feet of water was made to flat plum up and vanish, at no taxpayer expense. "Lo the water spouteth up," and so forth.
Senator Hatch: While the interns are handling that, let me say for the record that draining Lake Powell will jeopardize a $500-million-a-year recreational industry, just so a few sandal-wearing do-gooders can go rock-gazing. Now I call our first witness, the Army Corps of Engineers.
Corps Witness: Honorable cochairmen, subcommittee members, allow me to present Chart One. We carpet-bomb Lake Powell with our new "nuclear spades," atomizing the water and busting the whole place back to the Stone Age — shutting up the Sierra Club, since the Stone Age is really old and historic so they have to go along.
Senator Strom Thurmond: Now, son, in my experience, man-made cataclysms can bring on a plague of flying toads for a year and a day. Better think again, more Christian-like next time.
Witness: Sorry, Senator. Here's Chart Two. Note the hundreds of big red X's. Dynamite points. The Corps collapses the canyon walls lining not only Lake Powell but also the Colorado, Green, and Snake Rivers, burying all moving and standing water under trillions of tons of sandstone.
Senator Helms: A plain old-time biblical disaster visited upon the sinners, the sinners in this case being certain Jerry Brown-type agitators.
Witness: Exactly, Senator.
Senator Hatch: In the name of unleashing the forces of free enterprise, I will now read the following proposal into the record: "Pow-Wow, piped from Lake Powell to our holding tanks in Trenton, New Jersey, will be the first bottled water to harness the sacred Navajo spirit of..."
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell: Mister Cochairman, the sacred waters of Lake Powell are not...
Senator Hatch: The senator is out of order. Where was I? Oh, yeah. FlotsamCo has offered to absorb the water, using history's largest roll of paper towels for a televised demonstration in which America's schoolchildren will clean up the mess as an educational project in waste management. Also, I am informed that the U.S. Sponge Board will...
Senator Thurmond: I don't think the Army Corps has had a chance to finish.
Witness: Thank you, Senator. In Plan Three, the Corps starts building I-666, the Intercanyon Freeway, paving over Lake Powell to connect Utah to the Grand Canyon via a gleaming six-lane toll road.
Senator Thurmond: But first we pull all the inmates out of our prisons, where they're sitting around eating cheeseburgers and watching Oprah, and make them scrub the 1,960 miles of bathtub ring off the canyon walls after the water's gone. A bathtub ring is un-American.
Senator Helms: Speaking of un-American, I move to suppress the Sahara Club witness's scheduled testimony. They want to trade their sand for our water, helping each other out for the common good — that's Communist thinking.
Senator Hatch: The Department of the Interior, unfortunately, can't be barred from making a statement.
Secretary Bruce Babbitt: We propose to save the millions of dislocated fish by fitting them with specially designed ichthybathopods — self-contained survival systems with recirculating water and tiny goggles. These can keep the fish alive for 48 hours, giving us time to transport them to their new home, in the fountains outside Caesar's Palace.
Senator Hatch: I believe we have one more witness.
Page: Sadly, the International Brotherhood of Plumbers had to cancel their appearance today, Senator. A pipe burst in their washroom.
Senator Edward Kennedy: Then I move that these hearings adjourn to the Senate Lounge. I don't know about the rest of you, but all this talk of water makes me awfully thirsty.
Illustration by Barry Blitt