Draining Lake Powell - Promises, Promises......

This page discusses the promises being made of by proponents of draining Lake Powell as far as what improvements would take place if the Lake were drained.

#1 Bring back Glen Canyon to its pre-dam days
I and real experts in the various fields doubt that this is possible. The rocks may eventually return to the pre-dam appearance but that is even questionable. The riparian habitat will not be the same since the tamarisk has been introduced into the Southwest.

#2 The Grand Canyon Ecosystem would be saved
From discussions with biologists familiar  with the area, there probably was some net decrease in riparian habitat since the dam was constructed. The downstream habitat has not been destroyed as the proponents of draining the Lake would say, but the habitat has changed. The habitat downstream of the dam has actually increased the vegetation and therefore the habitat for wildlife. There are now adolescent Bald Eagles in a habitat that, while not naturally created, is statistically better than other training grounds for these birds recently taken off the endangered species list. The largest peregrine population group in North America can be found within 50 miles upstream and downstream of the dam. (A much more detailed discussion of raptors in the Glen and Grand Canyons is on another page on this site.

There are endangered species of fish in the river. Draining Lake Powell could very well allow the more aggressive fish in Lake Mead (downstream) to come upstream and destroy the remaining native fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation has a project in the planning phase that would control river water temperatures. The $15 million project would benefit those native fish in danger of extinction while retaining the habitat that has been so beneficial to the Eagles and Falcons.

#3 The Sea of Cortez estuary would be restored
There are people and wildlife that have been effected by the lack of water flowing to the Sea of Cortez. The people most negatively affected by the lack of water are the Cucapa Indians. There are few members of this tribe still living in the Colorado River delta area. Those there live in poverty and the fish that they used to catch have largely gone away. Interestingly members of a similar Indian tribe in Arizona (50 miles from the ones in Mexico) have land, water, a casino, a golf course, and a RV park. (While I won't say that we have historically treated our Native Americans well, I would say that currently the US is doing a much better job than the Mexican government is.) The Mexican government could provide water to the Cucapa, but the water is used for farming and urban uses.

The Cucapa of Mexico have to truck in water. Interestingly enough, so do many Navajo Indians, The Navajo's water for the Northern part of their reservation is obtained from pumps within Glen Canyon dam. There is also planned a pipeline from Lake Powell to two areas of the reservation.

Concerning the fish populations decline, those groups studying the Vaquita (a small porpoise) and the Totoaba (a sea bass) - which are both endangered - have stated the major reason for the decline in the populations of both fish has to do with over fishing. The Totoaba were fished to near extinction with the use of huge "factory" trawlers. The Vaquita's demise was getting caught in gill nets set out for other sea life. For more information there are several sources:

Defenders of Wildlife

Sea Watch

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

While the proponents of draining Lake Powell say that draining Lake Powell would provide an additional one million acre-ft per year available to the Delta, this is not really the case.

First the evaporation and bank storage are closer to 700,000 acre-ft / year (as discussed in more detail on another page on this site - click here).

Second while the Mexican treaty requires 1.5 million acre-ft per year of Colorado River flow to pass to Mexico, the April 1998 flow statistics show that difference between the flows provided to Mexico and the flows downstream of Morelos Dam (flows to the delta) were 4100 cfs. This means that the Mexicans have the ability to divert 3 million acre-ft/year to agriculture and urban uses (none making it to the Delta). And there is nothing the United States government can do about it.

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