Contact: Paul Smith (202) 224-9854
STATEMENT OF SENATOR ORRIN G. HATCH
HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
Proposal to Drain Lake Powell
and Decommission the Glen Canyon Dam
September 23, 1997
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to submit my views to your subcommittee on the recent
proposal to drain Lake Powell and to decommission the Glen Canyon Dam.
Frankly, Mr. Chairman, in all honesty, this proposal would wreak havoc -- environmental as well as economic -- in the region. Even if we excluded
from the argument the needs of people in the region, such as water, energy, and recreation, it would still be a terrible idea, based solely on the harm it would cause to the environment.
Whatever the ostensible
benefits to the environment that could come from draining Lake Powell, they would surely be overpowered by the greater harm this proposal would cause. As it is currently managed, Mr. Chairman, this is one of the world's
finest recreation and wildlife areas. As an ecosystem, the canyon has vastly improved since the days before the dam.
We all know the reasons the Glen Canyon Dam was proposed and built. As you know, Mr. Chairman, Utah
is the second driest state in the Union; during dry years, there is simply not enough water in the Colorado River to meet our water needs and the needs of the other Colorado River Basin states.
By building the Glen
Canyon Dam, we not only secured the necessary water during dry periods for all the basin states, but we created a world-class recreation area and an inexpensive, renewable, and clean source of energy. Revenue from the
energy production pays back the cost of building the dam with interest and has helped to provide infrastructure to provide electricity to rural areas. There is no doubt, Mr. Chairman, that building the Glen Canyon Dam
has made an impact on the lower Colorado River and on the riparian area within the Grand Canyon. But it is important to understand the delicate balance that is found in the Grand Canyon today, and how today's balance
compares to the predam condition of the area.
Before the dam was built, the Colorado River would send gigantic torrents of water through the canyons in the spring. The high flows would leave the area devoid of
vegetation and create immense beaches in its wake. In the winter months, the river would subside to a tiny flow. Because the beaches were reformed and redeposited each year, very little wildlife lived in the canyons
before the dam. Even if the wildlife could have survived the floods, the lack of vegetation made it difficult to exist. Before the dam, the water was even siltier than today. The excess silt blocked out the sun, so that
underwater vegetation was scarce, if it existed at all. Food was hard to come by for underwater life in the predam era.
When the dam was built, new ecological benefits arose. The clearer water allowed for underwater
vegetation to thrive below the dam and in shallow areas. This vegetation now breaks off, feeding underwater life for hundreds of miles. This has helped to create a world-class trout fishery in the river. In addition,
the beaches have begun producing rich and diverse vegetation. This has attracted many species of wildlife that had previously not existed. The increase in trout and vegetation has attracted bald eagles, herons, ducks,
and many other species of birds -- some of which are endangered. In fact, the postdam lower Colorado River now hosts more peregrine
During the early years of the dam, the water level of the Colorado would go up and
down as society's energy needs peaked and fell throughout the day. The steady rise and fall of the river slowly ate away at the beaches. This was problematic on a number of counts. As the beaches shrunk there were fewer
back eddies which provided calm shallow areas. These mini marshes were critical to the new insect and amphibious life that had come since the dam was built. The back shallow back eddies were also important spawning
grounds for the endangered humpback chub. The fluctuating flows also became the bane of boaters, who would find their camps occasionally flooded or their boats stranded on dry land as the water receded.
criticisms of the dam revolve around the fluctuating flows. Yet, this problem has already been fixed. In 1982, the Department of the Interior instituted controls that keep the wide variability out of the flows from the
dam. Boaters are no longer stranded, and the erosion of the