Hell No, The Dam Won't Go!!
Prepared by the following Utah State University students:
For the last few decades there has been
an ongoing debate over Glen
Canyon Dam, but it has escalated in the last few years. The Sierra Club
argues that it would be more beneficial to remove the dam because it is
causing extreme environmental and ecological problems. However, we
believe that it would cause more negative impacts to drain Lake Powell
than to leave the adapted area as is. By following the history and
examining the negative and positive aspects of the dam, research has
proven that it would be more environmentally sound to keep the reservoir
The prospects of building dams on the Colorado River date back to the
early 1900's. There was much debate about water rights and usage in the
southwest. The states in the lower basin (i.e. California, Arizona,
and Nevada) were developing and started worrying about where they would
get water for their increasing populations. In 1919, California started
asking for more water and introduced legislation into Congress. This
legislation became the Colorado River compact in 1922. It stated that
the water flow at Lees Ferry (Glen Canyon) could not drop below
75,000,000 acre-feet for any 10-year period. The US also agreed to send
1,500,000 acre-feet per year to Mexico. These water demands were very
high considering the extremely unpredictable nature of the Colorado
River. The only way to regulate the flow of the river was with a series
of dams, which became the Colorado River Storage Project. It authorized
the building of dams to create reservoirs for the purpose of reserving
the water rights of the lower basin, to make the area more useable, and
to generate electricity.
Proposals for dam sites were made including Dinosaur National Monument
at Echo Park, and Split Mountain on the Green River, along with Glen
Canyon. The Echo Park dam was the dam of choice because of its steep
banks that would hinder evaporation and thus not waste valuable water.
But because it would drown Dinosaur National Monument, it was a topic of
much debate. Many people, including the Sierra Club, were against the
Echo Park dam, and eventually Glen Canyon was chosen to house the dam by
default. Priscilla Perkins, professor at the University of California
who studied the effects of the reservoir stated that, "...the ultimate
decision to build Glen Canyon dam was based on consideration of
alternatives "(Perkins 13)
During the planning of Glen Canyon Dam, environmental issues were
rarely the basis of making decisions. That is not to say that they were
unaware of the impact the dam would cause. During senate hearings in
1925 when the dam was first discussed, Senator Oddie of Nevada asked La
Rue, the man in charge of planning the Glen Canyon dam, what the
Americans would think of a dam so close to the Grand Canyon. La Rue
replied," Outside of our own party in 1923, there are not more than 5 men
now living who have seen the Grand Canyon from the inside. I say they
will have to let them construct dams, and they can put motor boats on
them so that the people can see the inside of the canyon. I would not
object at all to presenting that subject to the park service as a policy
to be prosecuted 50 years from now." (Perkins 8)
This type of attitude was typical of those that were planning the
Colorado River Storage Project. They were more concerned with the
political aspects of the project than the environmental. Especially
with what they considered to be a "poor quality habitat"(Perkins 12).
Besides the fact that building the dam was not environmentally friendly
to begin with, it was also devastating to ancient Indians ruins and
petroglyphs. In Goodbye River, a book by Elizabeth Sprang, It talks
about what she saw on her journey along the Colorado River. Elizabeth
had the opportunity to see the petroglyphs that were created by these
tribes. "The momentos these ancient people left behind them are- unlike
ours-all beautiful things to see. They were always embellished with a
true artisit's touch, a bit of decoration unnecessary from the
standpoint of function." (Good Bye River, 29).
Fortunately for us she did "rubbings" of this wonderful art, by putting
a piece of paper against the wall and rubbing charcoal or paint along
it, so they could be remembered. They told stories about myths and
beliefs, which helped us to understand their way of life.
It is sad that we don't have these Indian artifacts any longer, but
draining Lake Powell isn't the solution; there is no guarantee that they
are still intact. Therefore it is not a valid reason for wanting to
drain the lake.
Two major arguments that people use for wanting to drain the lake are
the sedimentation and pollution problems. Lake Powell is being filled
with a great amount of sediment that may contain traces of mercury and
selenium (Hanscom 41). Nobody knows when the reservoir will be
completely filled with sediment, but it will happen. Because the nearest
estimate of when this phenomenon will occur is two hundred years away,
it should not be considered an immediate concern (DiLeo 32). However,
one major concern that is a problem now is that motorboats produce both
water and air pollution. Another way to view this is that three million
tons of coal is being saved each year the lake is there, which prevents
a considerable amount of air pollution. So, in actuality, draining the
lake would most likely add to the air pollution problem instead of
contributing to the prevention of (Ostapuk).
Before Glen Canyon dam was built the water of the Grand Canyon was warm
and silty. Since the presence of the dam, the water that is released is
cold and clear. This cold and clear water has had an effect on the fish
in the Grand Canyon. Some people believe that there was once a large
population of rare native fish in the canyon, but according to our
interview with Paul Holden (wetlands specialist), Glen Canyon was never
highly populated with native fish. Most of the native fish population
lived in the turbid rough water of the Grand Canyon. While the addition
of the dam has affected these populations, most of the fish, including
the humpback chub, have adapted to the cold clear water. Returning the
river to its original condition would force the humpback chub to adapt
again creating the great possibility that it may not survive. Also if
the lake were drained, many non-native predator fish would be released
into the river posing a threat to the existing native fish.
In addition to the fish being affected with the draining of Lake
Powell, numerous other species would be threatened. These species such
as the Peregrine falcon, Bald eagle, and spotted owl, are able to live
in the area because of the dam. It has reduced the flow of the Colorado
River allowing many types of plants to grow and provide food for these
animals. These birds were once on the endangered species list, but due
to the dam and the creation of Lake Powell, they were able to find a
well-suited environment to live in and they are no longer in danger of
becoming extinct. Do we really want to see them put back on the list
because some selfish humans destroyed their habitat?
Peregrine falcons have greatly increased their numbers over the past 10
years in the Lake Powell area. According to Park Service data, there
are an estimated 100 breeding pairs of Peregrine falcons in the Lake
Powell region. This growth is attributed to the great numbers of water
related insects which, in turn attract a hearty population of small
birds such as swallows and doves. These birds are delectable prey for
the Peregrine (Weeks).
The extremely rare Spotted Owl has also made Lake Powell its home.
Normally Spotted Owls are not associated with large bodies of water;
however, this group lives in the narrow side canyons of Glen Canyon
where they can easily find packrats, which they enjoy feasting upon
(Friends of Lake Powell).
Another bird that has benefited greatly from the habitat that Lake
Powell has created is our national bird, the Bald eagle. Prior to 1985,
Bald Eagles were not seen along the Colorado River: their numbers have
increased in this area over the last ten years. An estimated 30-45 Bald
Eagles are known to winter around Lake Powell because it has created a
perfect habitat for this bird to survive. If our sole purpose is to
protect these beautiful creatures, then why are we even considering
draining Lake Powell and destroying their habitat (Weeks)?
If saving Lake Powell for the animals is not a good enough
reason, think of the thousands of people whose lives would be devastated
by its removal. The entire existence of a town called Page, Arizona
would be jeopardized by the removal of this reservoir. This town was
built in 1957 as engineers came together to develop the plans for Glen
Canyon Dam. It continued to grow as more employees were hired to
construct the dam, and services appeared to accommodate the workers.
Today, the town still prospers because of tourism and the Navajo
Generating Station. The majority of the people who live in this area
are employed by the city, state, or federal governments to provide
services to the three million tourists each year that go to Lake Powell
One of the biggest employers is the Navajo Generating Station (NGS).
This is a power plant that was built after Glen Canyon Dam to be used to
produce energy for Utah, Arizona, and California. The NGS is extremely
beneficial to Page as well as the Navajo Indians. This plant hires 1,615
Navajos, which is significant because at this time these Indians have an
unemployment rate of 40%! The Navajo Generating Station not only
provides jobs for over a thousand native Americans, it also pays the
Navajo tribe $21 million each year. The jobs and money given to these
people support a large portion of their tribe. The well being of these
people has never seriously been considered a first priority and draining
the lake would prove to be no different (Ostapuk).
Not only does the Navajo Generating Station provide jobs and money to
the Navajos; it also pays $12 Million in taxes- $8.1 million of that
goes towards education. By having this plant, the citizens from Utah,
Arizona, and California spend $19 million dollars less on utilities.
Thus, it is a positive thing for the Navajo Indians, utility users,
businesses, taxpayers, and even school children (Ostapuk).
One group left out of the beneficiaries listed above, are the tourists.
The Dam has created a beautiful lake that is desirable to many as a
vacation spot. Some argue that Glen Canyon, without the lake, would
draw in more tourists because of its natural beauty. If this is true,
it will be decades before this is seen. One reason for this, is the
white bathtub ring that would be left after the lake is drained.
Estimates range anywhere from thirty years to never for this ring to
disappear. Another thing to consider is its location. It is in the
center of six national parks, all with protected natural canyons. These
include the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Canyon de Chelley, Canyonlands,
and Monument Valley. Because it is surrounded by these places that have
what Glen Canyon has, it will not necessarily bring in more tourists.
It could even lower the tourist rate considerably from the three million
that currently visit Lake Powell.
Over the past fifty years, Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell have become a
significant part of the animals and people that dwell there. The
peregrine falcon, spotted owl, and bald eagle have all found homes in
Glen Canyon. The dam makes it possible to provide clean energy to the
people of three states along with jobs to 1,615 Navajo Indians. By
draining the lake it would be taking an extreme risk in losing the
adapted native species of fish of the Grand Canyon. Last but not
least, three million tourists would lose their favorite vacation spot.
According to our survey, 73 percent of USU students feel that the lake
should not be drained. Even our environmentally friendly wetlands
specialist, Paul Holden, said "I think it's a great idea to remove dams,
I'm just not so sure it's a great idea to remove this one."
DiLeo, Michael. "The Undoing of a Dam." American Way Nov. 1997:
"Friends of Lake Powell" www.lakepowell.org November 1998
Hanscom, Greg. "Reclaiming a Lost Canyon." High Country News 29.21
(1997): 41- 47.
Jennings, Jessie D. Accidental Archaeologist: Memoirs of Jessie D.
Jennings. Utah: University of Utah Press, 1994.
Ostupuk, Paul. "Appreciating Lake Powell" www.lakepowell.net May 1997.
Perkins, Priscilla C. The Colorado River Through Glen Canyon Before
Lake Powell. New York: Perkins Pyramid Printing, 1995.
Sprang, Elizabeth. Goodbye River. New York: Kiva Press, 1992.
Topping, Gary. Glen Canyon and The San Juan Country. Idaho: University
of Idaho Press, 1997.
Weeks, Edward. "Save the Lake" www.glencanyon.net May 28, 1998.