TO: House Sub-Committee members interested in Glen Canyon "The Place No One Knew", and in helping save the Earth.
FROM: Dave Brower, Sierra Club, Earth Island Institute, Glen Canyon Institute.
I am writing to ask you to support a major effort at restoration that will make history. Last November with new data provided by the Glen
Canyon Institute, The Sierra Club BOD voted unanimously, with a little persuasion by its oldest director, to drain Lake Powell. There has been some understandably hostile reaction due, I think, to a lack of information.
Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute are in support (but I founded both of them). I hope that what follows will lead to your helping the information flow farther, and to support the idea that this issue
deserves public debate.
We are not now asking for your endorsement of draining the reservoir, rather solely to ask your support of initiating an Environmental Assessment of Glen Canyon Dam's environmental impact upon
the Colorado River system. If some more of us only knew then what we know now Glen Canyon Dam would never have flooded one of natures finest creations. As Executive Director of the Sierra Club (1952-69) I failed in 1956
to assert myself when it could well have made a difference and I have been trying to recover ever since. Thanks to a growing number of committed activists, scientists, recreation groups, and political powers, the truth
Glen Canyon Dam was built at a time when we did not face consequences we can no longer ignore. We did not ask the questions that seem so obvious to us now. We did not factor into our equations at Glen
the inherent vulnerability of concrete, and Navajo sandstone, or the cost, upstream and down, of devastating the Colorado River and delta ecosystems, or the vulnerability of economic catastrophe if Glen Canyon Dam
It was well known when the Colorado River Storage Project began it was primarily a hydropower revenue producing concept and, not generally known, was proscribed by the Colorado River Compact, which was itself
encouraged by an exaggerated estimate of the amount of water in the river. It was naively assumed that water would not flow downhill without a Glen Canyon Dam to help it on its way by wasting and polluting it. The
compact could simply have said "the Upper Basin's share may be stored in Lake Mead."
The Colorado River Compact stipulates that the impoundment of water for the generation of electric power "shall be
subservient to the use and consumption of such water for agricultural and domestic purposes and shall not intervene with or prevent use for such dominant purposes" (Article Iv). It certainly does.
appropriate state officials, together with the directors of the USBR and USGS "Shall cooperate, exofficio: (a) To promote the systematic determination and coordination of the facts as to the flow, appropriation,
consumption, and use of the Colorado River Basin, and the interchange of available information in such matters" (Article V). Such coordination is overdue.
Consider these further impacts of Lake Powell on what
the 1928 Interstate Compact sought to prevent.
Powell reservoir now loses 8% of the Colorado River's flow to evaporation and so-called bank storage. This approximately one million acre feet of water is enough to
supply another Phoenix or rescue the Sea of Cortez. This number will grow when the accumulation of sediment forces the reservoir's increasing average elevation to spread water out further and lose still more to
evaporation and transpiration.
Failure of the dam, as nearly happened in 1983 and could happen because of poor engineering, flood, landslide, earthquake or human intent could bring unprecedented catastrophe to
Arizona, Mexico, Nevada, and Southern California. So much vulnerability is not acceptable. Nor is the threat to the majority of species in the Colorado River and the delta. Moreover, the International Treaty with Mexico
is violated by the effect of Glen Canyon dam: The one-time Eden of the Sea of Cortez has been destroyed the U.S. over consumption of Colorado River water.
No one knows when the reservoir will finally fill with
sediment, but we can be assured it will. At this rate Page Arizona will one day sit alongside a once beautiful canyon filled with sediment and toxic sludge. The Bureau of Reclamation consistently downplays the
inevitable consequence. We do know that the accumulated sediment will be sent downstream by the dam's destruction, which will be caused by accident, intention, or time.
Recreation is a boom to Page now, but the
two-stroke motors it fuels alone contribute the equivalent of an EXXON Valdez oil spill every four years into Lake Powell The reservoir's existence invites further pollution by heavy metals, and human waste.
Rocky Mountain Institute's historic achievements we know that the investment in Megawatts (energy conservation and efficiency) can empower the restoration of Glen Canyon. By replacing power through reduced demand we can
generate support for the rehabilitation of the Colorado River watershed, and establishment of the long deferred Escalante National Park.
These are but a few of the compelling reasons the Glen Canyon Institute is
urging you to support our efforts to address this issue publicly. We believe the public will ultimately be convinced that the draining of Lake Powell is overdue, is one of the soundest possible investments in
restoration for a sustainable future, and that the cost of what we propose is manageable, but the cost of avoiding it is not.
We hope for your endorsement of this vision shared by the Glen Canyon Institute, the
Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, International Rivers Network, and the Earth Island Institute. The Colorado Compact stipulates that there be a determination of facts by the government. The government misled the public
on this subject half a century ago and is avoiding its duty now. It is unlikely that Glen Canyon Dam would have been approved had NEPA been in existence in 1956. Therefore we are launching an unprecedented citizen-led
Environmental Assessment this fall to present the truth as we see it, and encourage an open discussion of the proposal to drain Lake Powell and let the Colorado River run though Glen Canyon Dam, instead of over it.
It will be no small task to raise the $500,000 needed to initiate the Environmental Assessment, plan the public hearings and to write the final analysis papers, but we are committed to seeing this through and to
garnering as much support as possible within the conservation movement.
Please let us know if you are willing to consider this opportunity to re-evaluate water use in the West and, indeed, globally.
David Ross Brower
The proposal to drain Lake Powell is discussed in forewords to Canyons of the Colorado. Oregon Rivers, in articles in Sierra, Washington Post Magazine, The Economist, National
Geographic Magazine, Boatman's Quarterly Review, the Arizona, Colorado and Utah press, The Los Angeles Times, San Francsico Examiner, the Web Page of the Sierra Club, Earth Island Journal, and International Rivers
The National Geographic's superficial piece of Grand Canyon calls me a "dam-buster" in spite of my protest to the author in advance. I've busted none, have helped block a few, and would like to
retire Glen, Hetch Hetchy and maybe myself