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H.RES. 380
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© 1999 Friends of Lake Powell, Inc.
P.O. Box 7007
Page, AZ 86040 USA
(928) 645-2741  Fax: 928-353-2227


Mr. Chairman and illustrious members of the Subcommittees, thank you kindly for inviting me to testify today.

My name is Rob Elliott. I represent America Outdoors, a national trade association comprised of 600 small businesses which outfit back country trips for the public on lands managed by government agencies across the Nation. I am also the President of Arizona Raft Adventures, a river runner in the Grand Canyon.

Knowing what we know today, and on balance with all the myriad considerations, I am adamantly opposed to the draining of Lake Powell and I will document my position in a few moments.

Spiritually, I grew up in Glen Canyon. I have lived and worked and played on the Colorado plateau most of my adult life, and I have outfitted over 30,000 people on river trips through the Grand Canyon. I have represented the outfitting industry and the transition work group for several years working directly with the Bureau of Reclamation and the dozen or so cooperating agencies in the development of the Glen Canyon Dam EIS.

In the spring of 1962, I was twice blessed when I floated through Glen Canyon with David Brower. Before dawn one morning, I left alone for the 6-mile hike up Aztec Creek to see Rainbow Bridge and upon returning to camp I had an epiphany. I cried out loud and apologized to God for our flooding of Glen Canyon. That experience forever annealed the environmental ethic to my soul.

The second blessing was meeting and coming to know David Brower, a personal hero of mine. David Brower taught me that one person can make a monumental difference in the world.

My first reaction to the notion of draining Lake Powell and freeing the Colorado River to its pre-dammed condition was, wouldn't it be wonderful to turn back the clock? And what a preposterous idea.

My more studied reaction to the proposal to drain Lake Powell is that the riparian habitat in Grand Canyon downstream from the dam is today amazingly vibrant, rich in biodiversity, nonetheless legitimate because it is a highly managed ecosystem. And it is threatened by both the prospect of draining Lake Powell and the possibility that nature may act first to blow out Glen Canyon Dam, with or without the authorization of Congress.

With the control of annual flooding in Grand Canyon, there has been a dramatic increase in riparian vegetation with a corresponding increase of biodiversity, including supportive habitat for threatened and endangered species. By accident, we have created a refuge for Neotropical birds of regional significance, and the cold clear water below the dam supports a blue ribbon trout fishery. A highly regulated river has produced high biodiversity and new recreational opportunity.

What are the environmental consequences of draining Lake Powell?

With the draining of Lake Powell and the freeing of Glen Canyon from beneath megatons of potentially toxic sediments, restoration would begin immediately and take perhaps a millennium for nature to restore Glen Canyon to, to what? We don't know. But not likely to its original splendor.

Glen Canyon would be an unstable environment for a very long period of time, and the first species to reclaim the land would very likely be invasive, nonnative specious such as tamarisk and camel thorn. Restoration to a natural condition may neither be possible nor desirable. We know very little about the environmental consequences of draining Lake Powell, but we do know some things about river sediments and delta deposits elsewhere.

As river sediments accumulate, various naturally occurring compounds and heavy metals concentrate to toxic levels.

What do the proponents of draining the lake suggest we do with these potentially toxic sediments? The Colorado River flowing into Glen Canyon would carry the same sediments it does today. Upon entering the former Lake Powell, the river would pick up newly exposed lake sediments. At best, the mix of lake sediments with upstream sediments is a black box scientifically.

If the sediments flow through Glen and Grand Canyons, then Lake Meade will fill all the more quickly. And then are we to decommission Hoover Dam as well? Is the only ultimate answer to let the sediments run through to the Sea of Cortez? To use the water, we must remove the sediments. And I admit, that fact poses very tough questions for future generations. It is not too soon to start looking for the answers today.

I am a strong advocate for deepening scientific inquiry at Lake Powell. What is the composition of lake sediments and how fast are they accumulating? Do the lake sediments pose a health and safety concern for our or future generations? How much water is really lost to evaporation percolation? What about meromixis, the accumulation of deep water conditions with high salinity and very low oxygen levels which some day could kill fish and corrode turbines? Scientists can answer these questions and we need to give them all the support and the funding we can reasonably pull together to look at those.

Included in the scope of this hearing is the reduction of water storage capability of Lake Powell. I also would like to urge both Committees to strongly advocate a governmental risk analysis to determine the competency of Glen Canyon Dam and flood control capacity in Lake Powell to withstand a 500-year flood.

How long did the engineers design the dam to last? Was it smart to put it in sandstone in the first place? There is a lot of speculation as to how long the dam will be there. We almost lost it in 1983 when El Nino produced 210 percent of normal snowpack in the early spring and a warm June brought it all down the first 10 days of the month.

Meteorologists tell us the coming El Nino event building off the coast of South America is expected to be the biggest of the century. A 500-year flood run events about—flood event runs about 250,000 cubic feet per second and sedimentologists with the Bureau of Reclamation point to evidence of prehistoric floods of up to 400,000 cubic feet per second. With all tubes and spillways flowing, Glen Canyon Dam can release 270,000 cubic feet per second.

Back in 1983, the dam flowed 93,000 cubic feet per second. So when reviewing these figures, we have a potential 500-year flood event—who knows if El Nino will bring it or not—of 250,000 to 400,000 cubic feet per second. We did pass 93,000 cubic feet per second through the dam in 1983 with some serious, serious corrosive erosion effects to the bypass tubes.

So now we are talking about the possibility of passing 250,000, 270,000 cubic feet per second through the dam in a major flood event for flood control purposes. That is three times the amount of water that we passed through the dam in 1983.

My view is that the Subcommittees can productively focus time and resources on assuring the public that the risk analysis of managing a 500-year flood is addressed. Whether the lake is drained by man or the dam is blown out by nature, the riparian resources in both Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon will recover in a few hundred years. If we fail to accommodate the eventuality of a 500-year flood, we may have created a situation with unacceptable risks to society.

I thank the Committees very much for the opportunity to testify.

For more information contact. friends@lakepowell.org