Daughter recalls with pride late champion of Lake Powell
Fruitvale resident Jan DeBolt remembers the time her father took his family camping on Lake Powell.
“Actually, he got us settled in camp, and then he was called back to Washington, D.C., for congressional hearings. So he wasn’t with us. Mother was with us,” DeBolt said Tuesday.
Testifying before Congress was just one of the job requirements — and reputed strengths — of Floyd Dominy, who died April 20 at the age of 100.
Dominy served as U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner from 1959-69. He is best remembered for overseeing construction of the controversial Glen Canyon Dam, which flooded Glen Canyon and created Lake Powell.
DeBolt said her father’s “body just gave out” after a century of living. But his health remained good almost right until the end, and he retained the sharp mind of someone who had been an overpowering presence as Bureau of Reclamation commissioner.
“He was a very strong man who believed in what he was doing,” she said.
She said her father “lived a very colorful life. Let’s put it that way.” He continued to love to talk about water issues all of his life, and he never came to have any doubts about his actions during the era of big-dam construction in the United States, DeBolt said.
“I’m just proud to be his daughter,” she said.
What was it like to be Dominy’s daughter? DeBolt emitted a long laugh before answering.
“Let’s put it this way. We were very much alike, so we clashed hard,” DeBolt said.
“He did things Dad’s way,” she said, in describing how he raised his family, which also included a son and another daughter.
“He would take a very firm stand,” whether at home or on the job, DeBolt said.
“That’s one of the reasons he was so respected on Capitol Hill, because when he was testifying he didn’t #####-foot around. He told as he felt,” DeBolt said.
She said her parents were raised in the dry country of Hastings, Neb. DeBolt thinks that influenced his interest in building reservoirs, as did his time in the 1930s working as a county agent in Campbell County, Wyo., helping farmers and ranchers ship off cattle during a drought.
Later, as Reclamation commissioner, Dominy oversaw completion of other dams, including the Flaming Gorge and Navajo dams, which were parts of the Colorado River Storage Project. But none of his achievements was as high-profile as Glen Canyon Dam. Debate over the dam continues to this day, and Dominy’s vocal support for its construction is detailed in such notable books as John McPhee’s “Encounters with the Archdruid” and Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert.”
After DeBolt’s visit to Lake Powell when she was young, she later returned there with her own family to houseboat, and she said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
She considers talk of draining Lake Powell foolish. Glen Canyon would never return to what it once was, and an important storage area would be lost, she said.
“There would not be the water supply available for California or Nevada without Lake Powell,” DeBolt said.
After DeBolt’s husband, Jack, died in 1973, she taught high school home economics for seven years in Torrington, Wyo., and then worked another 12 years as a cooperative-extension agent in Wyoming.
DeBolt’s children live in Wyoming and Washington state, but she decided to escape the winds of Wyoming and move to Grand Junction. She said she was attracted by everything from the city’s many musical concerts to the good fabric stores and the beautiful red rock of Colorado National Monument.
As for her father, he proved strong enough to live alone as a widower in Virginia up until his death, DeBolt said. She said that at his request, his body is being donated to the medical school of the University of Virginia for research.
“He thought it would be interesting because of the lifestyle he led to find out how he could possibly be still alive at that age,” DeBolt said.
Dominy enjoyed cigars and “lots of bourbon” for much of his life before finally giving up smoking and switching to white wine, DeBolt said.
“He never stopped drinking that, and he loved his beef,” she said.