Protecting the Nile

Egypt has relied on the Nile since the dawn of civilization. For over 5000 years, the Nile has pushed nutrient-rich silt through its 6600-km waterway from the wellsprings of Lake Tana in Ethiopia (Blue Nile) and Lake Victoria in Uganda (White Nile), on its way through Cairo, where it eventually runs across the delta and drains into the Mediterranean.

Just as the Nile shaped the landscape, it also shaped a society that believed in the Nile’s magical properties. Ancient Egyptians believed that gods controlled the Nile. They venerated Sobek, the crocodile god who created the Nile,

and prayed to Khnum–lord of the water–who fertilized the river banks, thus enabling Hapi, the goddess of ‘Annual Flooding’ to enrich and irrigate Egyptian crops.

Pharaohs used the Nile as a transit zone for long-hauling building supplies between coastal cities, and establishing monuments to the gods and themselves along the way, like the temple of Kalabsha in Nubia.

Even Aga Khan thought the bank of the Nile was a good idea for a Fatimid mausoleum.

Yet the river that once placed Egypt at the center of the civilized world for 3 millennia is now on life support, and poses a serious threat to the welfare of Egypt’s agriculture, aquaculture, and transportation sectors.

Unfortunately, the matter has been complicated by issues that stem from Egypt’s internal struggles, while the nation also battles other problems originating from south of the border.

For one, Egypt’s population already exceeds 110M, and is projected to swell to 121M in 2030, 160M in 2050, and 225M in 2100.

Egypt’s alarming growth rate over the past millennium has placed the country in economic jeopardy for the foreseeable future. Presently, nearly one-third of the country lives in poverty.

Additionally, with 97% of a dependent population living along the banks of the Nile and its delta, the existential threat to the river Nile has heightened significantly.

Intervention by Egypt over time has resulted in benefits and new challenges…

By partnering with the Soviets between 1960 and 1970,

Soviet-Egypt Friendship Monument

Egypt constructed the Aswan High Dam–an immense embankment dam–upriver from the original Aswan Dam completed by the British in 1902.

It’s purpose: to control flooding;

provide increased water storage for irrigation;

generate hydropower;

and encourage tourism–all seen as pivotal to Egypt’s industrialization.

Yet, there have been unintended environmental consequences to damming the Nile:

  • The dam restricts passage of rich volcanic sediment that once swept along the entire riverbed, but now struggles to reach the Mediterranean.
  • The Nile Delta has lost a substantial amount of arable land due to the Nile’s inability to provide an unabated flow rate to defeat a rising sea.
  • A 15 cm rise in the Mediterranean’s sea-level over the past century is expected to double over the next 30 years from climate change.
  • To compensate for the salination of the soil, farmers must pump more fresh water from the Nile onto their crops, causing additional pollution from synthetic fertilizer runoff.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N.’s group of climate scientists predict the impact on the Nile will be catastrophic. They say it will lose 70% of its flow by the end of the century, with the water supply plummeting to a third of its present capacity.

Good for camels, but not for human survival.

Egyptian officials have also been wrangling over water rights and diplomacy with Ethiopian counterparts, arguing that their water security has been irreparably compromised.

However, more than half of Ethiopia’s 110 million people currently live in the dark. Their leadership is hopeful that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile (begun in 2011) will help to electrify the country and generate power for export.

Consequently, the Renaissance Reservoir will cause a 25% loss of hydropower generated by the Aswan High Dam, a reduction in Lake Nasser’s water retention, and a reduction to Egypt’s flow rate by as much as 25%.

With anticipated droughts in East Africa, a 2oC rise in temperature across the region, and a population crisis that begets increased poverty, it’s imperative that competing countries begin cooperating with each other to protect their citizens and their mutual interests.

A Park By Any Other Name*

If you could mix Sedona’s red rocks,

chimney rock
Not Sedona–Capitol Reef

scenic hwy1
Not Sedona–Capitol Reef

with Painted Desert’s colors,

capitol reef
Not Petrified Forest–Capitol Reef

rock faces
Not Petrified Forest–Capitol Reef

and Zion’s canyon walls,

canyon walls
Not Zion–Capitol Reef

scenic hwy canyon wall1
Not Zion–Capitol Reef

and Canyonland’s monoliths,

Not Canyonland–Capitol Reef

Not Canyonland–Capitol Reef

while also adding Arches’ arches…

Hickman Bridge1
Not Arches–Capitol Reef

hickman bridge2
Not Arches–Capitol Reef

in a geologic blender, then stir in one cup of Fremont River water,  Fremont River

top with orchard fruit,Capitol Reef orchard (2)sprinkle in some petroglyphs,

and season with Mormon history,school house (2)you would have a delicious National Park named Capitol Reef that few would ever taste. And that would be the greatest crime, because this is a four-course park that satisfies all the senses, and requires at least four days to consume all it has to offer.

And yet Capitol Reef stands out as a National Park that’s most in need of a publicist or a brand manager. For a park that has so much to offer, it defies logic that little more than 1 million visited last year. Maybe it’s the name. It’s connotation to Washington–as unpopular as politics are today–might have an impact. Or perhaps the mention of “Reef” confuses visitors who may mistakenly associate a park bordering on Utah’s shoreline. Either way, it’s time to re-imagine a name that befits this jewel.

A big regret when planning our itinerary through Utah was naively categorizing this park as “order-to-go” fare, when it clearly requires a more leisurely approach to appreciate all its hearty features and delicate nuances.

Our two days at Capitol Reef were full and varied. We hiked; we drove; we participated in ranger-led discussions; and we off-roaded. We also got caught in a flash flood just minutes after taking the scenic drive–with all the wash basins turning red from torrential run-off, stranding dozens of cars in the canyon until the rain ran its course.flash flood (2)But we would not be detained. The truck’s high clearance and V-8 muscle was more than enough to plow through two feet of fast water, cutting a red swath through the wash, and a sending a bloody spray across my windshield and windows. The benefit of beating the waterfall gave us the road ahead to ourselves, as all the other cars were left behind in our wake.

Conveniently, the rain passed the moment we approached the Capitol Gorge Road,dome dramaand coincidentally coincided with a Sirius-XM radio broadcast of Trump announcing the American withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. It’s hard to relay the irony of negotiating the winding narrow passage between the canyon walls while listening to Trump rationalize his decision under the guise of job losses in front of a partisan Rose Garden rally. With every fractured sentence and every tired hyperbole, the crowd would erupt with enthusiastic applause, acknowledged by Trump’s demure, “Thank you, thank you.”

It seemed sacrilegious, listening to Trump’s politicized and pacified diatribe while zigzagging through the gorge and admiring nature’s wonders. Although the satellite signal would occasionally drift with the drive–interrupting the incongruity of his half-hour address–I was certain that Trump would never be discussing the benefits of tackling climate change, or consider the potential of adding green jobs that promote renewable energy.

The end of the Capitol Gorge Road fed into the Capitol Gorge Trail. Leaving the F-150 behind, we followed the gorge on foot,

Leah hiketracing many generations of footsteps before us.grafitti1 (2)These people left us a great treasure (discounting the grafitti–more on that later) to inspire us, but also assigned us a great responsibility to preserve and protect it so that future generations may also be inspired. Our legacy as moral and ethical humans relies on it. And our future as a planet depends on it.

And that’s when it dawned on me. Take Trumps’ tired mantra, and re-purpose it!

I hereby propose that Capitol Reef now be called “Tremendous National Park”!

What do you think?

* All photos posted are from Capitol Reef National Park. Any similarity to other National Parks is purely intentional.