Events of 50 years ago still impact San Juan County today
It was long ago and far away, but the events of 50 years ago by the federal government in Washington DC continue to have a great impact on San Juan County.
Four separate events occurred during a flurry of legislative and Presidential actions, including the designation of Canyonlands National Park, the generation of power at Glen Canyon Dam, and the signing of the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act.
Glen Canyon Dam
On September 27, officials marked fifty years of power generation from the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ. The massive dam, just across the border from San Juan County, uses the waters of the Colorado River to generate electrical power.
It is estimated that over the past 50 years, Glen Canyon dam has generated electricity that is an equivalent of 550 million barrels of oil. This 50-year total is roughly equivalent to the entire worldwide production of crude oil each year.
Of course, the Glen Canyon project backed up the waters of the Colorado River to create Lake Powell. More than three million people visit Lake Powell each year.
In addition, Glen Canyon dam also allows for the storage of water for all users upstream from the dam.
The Wilderness Act
Since the Wilderness Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in September, 1964, nearly 110 million acres of federal land have been designated as wilderness.
In San Juan County, the Dark Canyon Wilderness in the Manti La Sal National Forest was designated in 1984 and includes nearly 50,000 acres.
The controversy has continued to rage for decades surrounding the designation of wilderness on Utah lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
San Juan County stands in the middle of Utah’s BLM wilderness debate, with more than one million acres of BLM land in the county mentioned for possible wilderness designation.
While the political battle continues, the cold reality is that huge tracts of BLM in San Juan County are already defacto wilderness, treated by the BLM as wilderness until a final decision can be made.
The current battles being fought in San Juan County over the closure of Recapture Canyon can trace its roots to the Wilderness Act.
Civil Rights Act
The Civil Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in July, 1964, was a hallmark piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The Civil Rights Act, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has helped transform life across the United States, from the Deep South all the way to San Juan County.
It was in the mid 1980s that the federal Office of Civil Rights adjusted the way elections were conducted in San Juan County. Instead of the prior process of electing at-large county commissioners by voters across the county, voters elected commissioners from districts that were created by the federal government.
Since that time, Native Americans have served on the county commission.
Currently, San Juan County is involved in a lawsuit which may redraw the boundaries again. The main contention of the lawsuit is that the Voting Rights Act has been violated.
On September 12, 1964, Johnson signed the legislation that created Canyonlands National Park. Since that time, millions of visitors have explored the spectacular landscape where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet.
Unfortunately, while the wonders of the Canyonlands attract visitors from around the world, it is fair to say that the majority of San Juan County residents never enter the park boundaries.
However, if you won’t come to the park, the park may come to you.
At the current time, a number of voices across the country are calling for the unilateral designation of the Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
In effect, the proposal would expand the boundaries of the park to most public land west of Highway 191 and north of Highway 95.