James S. Lochhead
Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources
and Colorado Commissioner to the
Upper Colorado River Compact Commission
Before the Subcommittees on
National Parks & Public Lands
and Water & Power
of the Resources Committee
United States House of Representatives
Concerning the Proposal to Drain Lake Powell
September 23, 1997
The purpose of my testimony today is to help express, from a Colorado and
Upper Colorado River Basin perspective, our grave concerns as to the effects of draining
Lake Powell. To fully appreciate these concerns, members of Congress should understand
that this proposal is not just about one dam. Congress authorized the construction and
directed the operation of Glen Canyon Dam as a key component of a complex framework of
laws known as the "Law of the River." Without the river regulating capacity of
Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, that entire complex of laws cannot operate.
The Law of the River was born out of the necessity to provide secure water supplies. It
is the product of two interstate compacts, a U.S. Supreme Court decree, and a treaty with
Mexico allocating the River's water. It reflects the fact that, for over 100 years, the
financial strength and national authority of the Congress have been absolutely necessary
to avoid interstate disputes and to secure economic stability for the entire Colorado
John Wesley Powell, who first explored the River, in his 1878 "Report on the Land
of the Arid Region of the United States," advocated the comprehensive development of
the Colorado River Basin. His nephew Arthur Powell Davis, as director of the Reclamation
Service, undertook studies and championed this development in the early part of this
Economic development interests in the Lower Basin gave support to these plans. Floods
in the Lower Colorado River in the first years of this century caused extensive damage,
creating the Salton Sea, and bringing urgency to the desires of Southern California
irrigators for an All-American Canal and a dam that would regulate the River's flow. The
California interests sought financial support for these projects from Congress.
The Upper Basin states were wary that the Lower Basin would develop at the expense of
the Upper Basin, and successfully blocked the effort in Congress. The Upper (Colorado, New
Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower (Arizona, California and Nevada) Basin states resolved
their differences in 1922, when they signed the Colorado River Compact.
The Compact divides the River's water between the Basins. It also sets a requirement
that the Upper Basin not deplete the flow of water at Lee Ferry, just below the present
site of Glen Canyon Dam, below 75 million-acre feet in any ten year period.
Because of the erratic nature of the River flow from year to year, the negotiators of
the Compact knew that the Upper Basin could not meet this burden without the comprehensive
development, throughout the Basin, of storage reservoirs. At the first meeting of the
Colorado River Compact Commission in Washington D.C. in 1922, Herbert Hoover, who was
chairman of the Commission and the federal representative, said:
"The problem is not as simple as might appear on the surface for while there
is possibly ample water in the river for all purposes if adequate storage be undertaken,
there is not a sufficient supply of water to meet all claims unless there is some definite
program of water conservation. The solution of the whole problem may well be contingent on
storage. . .It would seem to me that it would be a great misfortune if we did not give to
Congress and the country a broad project for development of the Colorado as a whole."
The Upper Basin representatives especially knew that their ability to benefit from the
compact was dependent on the future development of storage. Colorado's representative,
Delph Carpenter, stated in the 13th compact meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico:
In truth, the best possible safeguard for the lower states to insure delivery at Lee's
Ferry within reasonable inclusive figures from year to year would be the immediate
development of the reservoir storage in the upper area.
At the time of the compact negotiations, the Reclamation Service had undertaken studies
of dam sites along the River, including at Glen Canyon. The attached charts illustrate the
point that storage was considered essential to allow for reliable annual flows. In the
period of record since 1896, the virgin flow of the River at Lee Ferry has been as low as
5.6 million-acre feet (1934) and as high as 24.5 million-acre feet (1984). The ten-year
average annual virgin flow has been as low as 11.8 million-acre feet (1931-1940 and
1954-1963) and as high as 18.8 million-acre feet (1914-1923).
The 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act ratified the Colorado River Compact, and authorized
the construction of the All-American Canal and Hoover Dam. Congress also recognized that
reservoir development throughout the basin was essential to the success of the Compact.
The Act states:
"The Secretary of the Interior is authorized and directed to make
investigation and public reports of the feasibility of projects . . .and of formulating a
comprehensive scheme of control and the improvement and utilization of the water of the
Colorado River and its tributaries. "
The Depression and World War II intervened, but in 1946 the Bureau of Reclamation
completed its report. It recommended that in order to undertake comprehensive development
the states would need to further define their respective allocations of water in the
River. The Upper Basin Compact of 1948 allowed Congress to implement the plan. Interests
throughout the Basin, including conservation groups, began the process of negotiating and
advocating which projects should or should not be built. Although the National
Environmental Policy Act was not in effect at the time, this negotiation and analysis
process took years.
This process led to the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act, which authorized the
construction of a series of so-called "holdover reservoirs," that would assure
the Upper Basin could meet its Compact obligations. Congress authorized these reservoirs
specifically for the purpose of:
. . ."making it possible for the states of the Upper Basin to utilize,
consistently with the provisions of the Colorado River Compact, the apportionments made to
and among them in the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Basin
Lake Powell is the cornerstone of that system, supported by the Flaming Gorge, Aspinall
and Navajo storage units. Together, these reservoirs have a storage capacity of nearly 33
million-acre feet. However, about 26 million-acre feet of this capacity are at Lake
In the 1968 Colorado River Basin Project Act, Congress recognized that just
constructing the storage units did not provide the requisite security to the Upper Basin.
Therefore, in Title VI of the 1968 Act, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to
develop operating criteria that would direct the operation of the Upper Basin storage
units in coordination with Lake Mead. Title VI also established priorities for the storage
in and release of water from Lake Powell. This comprehensive regulatory framework was
implemented in the Criteria for Coordinated Long-Range Operation of Colorado River
Reservoirs, adopted by the Secretary in 1970.
Without the ability to properly regulate river flows as provided by these facilities
and under these laws, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states would face the prospect of
a Compact call from the Lower Basin states. This call could entail massive curtailments of
water use by millions of people in the Upper Basin.
Throughout the development of this series of laws, Congress has worked closely with the
Basin states, and has explicitly recognized and affirmed the water allocations established
under the Law of the River.
This recognition has occurred as recently as 1992, in the Grand Canyon Protection Act.
In that law, Congress directed that operations of the power plant at Glen Canyon Dam take
into account downstream impacts (which were identified in a $100 million environmental
impact statement). But that law also affirmed the critical role Lake Powell plays in
meeting interstate water allocation needs. The Act makes operations for downstream
purposes subject to the Dam's primary water storage and release functions for water
allocation purposes under the Law of the River. The Report of the House Committee on
Interior and Insular Affairs, 102d Congress, 1st Session, Rept. 102-114 (1991) on a House
version of the Act (H.R. 429), described Glen Canyon Dam as follows:
The dam is the key structure for controlling deliveries of Colorado River water to the
Lower Colorado River Basin States . . .The primary purpose of Glen Canyon Dam is to enable
the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico to utilize their apportionment of
Colorado River water and meet their obligations for water delivery to the states of
Arizona, California and Nevada. Lake Powell and other CRSP reservoirs allow the Upper
Basin states to take water year-round from the Upper Colorado River for consumptive uses
and still store enough spring runoff in Lake Powell to guarantee the required compact
deliveries to the Lower Basin states even during a long period of drought.
Likewise, the Report of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate,
102d Congress, 2d Session, Report 102-267 (1992), states:
Glen Canyon Dam is the keystone of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP), and CRSP
is the central vehicle for implementation of the congressionally approved Colorado River
Compact. The Compact is, in turn, the basis for allocation of Colorado River water among
the seven Colorado River Basin States.
By storing water in the upper reservoirs at Flaming Gorge, Aspinall and Navajo,
regulating the water through Lake Powell, and delivering the water at Lake Mead, the
Bureau of Reclamation has the facilities and operational flexibility to meet the needs
first envisioned over one-hundred years ago. These facilities ensure a secure water supply
for over 20 million people, and a hydroelectric and recreational resource. In addition, as
illustrated by operations under the Grand Canyon Protection Act, the Bureau has the
ability, through coordinated operations, to also manage the water to meet important
national environmental goals.
For example, the Upper Basin states, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service
and others have developed a recovery plan for four endangered fish species in the Upper
Basin. The plan is designed to recover these endangered species while still allowing the
Upper Basin states to develop our full allocated Compact share. Under this plan, the
operation of these Upper Basin storage units has been changed to more closely approximate
the natural hydrograph, while continuing to meet primary water storage and delivery
functions under the Law of the River. Without Lake Powell, this operational flexibility
would not be possible.
Other aspects of this recovery plan, including habitat acquisition, fish passage
structures, conservation and stocking programs, will need to be funded through a
combination of hydropower revenues, Congressional appropriations and state and local
funds. Thus, maintaining power-generating capacity is critical to our continued ability to
undertake this program. The Upper Basin states need the help of Congress now more than
ever to meet the priorities of Colorado River management. Meeting the funding needs of
this recovery program is critical to the ability of the Upper Basin states to utilize our
By directing the draining of Lake Powell, Congress would completely reverse its field,
from a direction in which it has steadily engaged since the enactment of the Boulder
Canyon Project Act of 1928. It would tear a gaping hole in the fabric of the Law of the
River. These and other impacts must be given serious consideration before proceeding to
even consider studying such a proposal.