In Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams blames a natural disaster—the overflowing of the Great Salt Lake in Utah--for the destruction of the place she loved most in the world, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. What Williams attempts to explain, however, is that this disaster wasn’t really “natural” at all. Refuge is critiqued by some for being over-dramatized, and Terry Tempest Williams is often criticized for blaming the world and others for the loss of the bird refuge. In fact, Williams is correct when she says that humans are responsible for the flooding of Salt Lake, which was caused by the construction of a railroad causeway that split Great Salt Lake into two bodies of water. The author is not a reckless finger-pointer, she is a realist.
In describing the bird refuge before the flooding, Williams goes into great detail about the abundance of birds and vegetation that inhabited her paradise: “Avocets and black-necked stilts are knee deep in water alongside interstate 80. Flocks of California gulls stand on a disappearing beach…I inhale the salty air. It is like ocean, even the lake is steel-blue with whitecaps”(Williams 30). In a visit to the bird refuge with her grandmother, she describes the refuge as a place full of life, with countless birds among beautiful plants and wildlife. Indeed, the bird refuge was a sanctuary to her; there was something magical, she writes, about seeing the thousands of different birds in one place, a sight that kept her going back.
The rise of Great Salt Lake engulfed the refuge, and as the flooding continued, the population of birds plummeted, Williams’ sanctuary turned into a graveyard filled with only memories of the birds she grew ...
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...e the ones most affected by flooding, are also those where the poorest residents live.
In 1987, three pumps were used to pump 800,000 acres of water into the West Pond of Salt Lake in an attempt to even out the water levels on the two sides of the lake. This effort to fix the lakes’ problems, which cost $60 million, became known as the West Desert Pumping Project. The project went on for more than two years, until 2.7 million acre-feet of water, containing 695 million tons of salt, were pumped out.
(www.ugs.state.ut.us/online/PI-39/pi39pg08 ) These pumps were successful in balancing the lake’s water levels, and remain on standby in case of another disastrous rise. It remains to be seen, however, whether this corrective measure will restore Great Salt Lake’s wildlife—and particularly the birds that Terry Tempest Williams treasured—to their pre-causeway levels.
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