Myth: Glen Canyon was sacrificed or traded for Echo Park.
David Brower’s verbal association of proposed dams in Echo Park and Glen Canyon has led many newspaper reporters, writers, and other casual observers to conclude that a dam in the latter was a substitute for the former. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that leading the campaign against Echo Park Dam was David Brower, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. By his ability to locate arithmetic errors in the Bureau of Reclamation’s estimate of reservoir evaporation and through his public interviews, speeches, writings, and advertisements, the Echo Park Dam fell into disfavor with Congressmen, and it was eliminated from the CRSP bill. In his campaign, however, Brower linked Echo Park Dam with Glen Canyon Dam, stating that Echo Park Dam would not be necessary if the height of Glen Canyon Dam was raised to allow more water storage. In the early 1950’s, therefore, Brower had no objection to construction of Glen Canyon Dam.
Many years later, during 1999 and until his death in 2000, Brower maintained that
if, in the 1950’s, he had known how beautiful Glen Canyon was, he could have eliminated Glen Canyon Dam from the CRSP proposal by using the Congressional backing that he
then possessed. Considering the political power in Congress then available to Upper Basin
interests, figures such as Congressman Wayne Aspinall of Colorado and Senator Arthur
Watkins of Utah, it is doubtful that Brower was correct in his half-century later secondguessing.
Even Lower Basin legislators, such as Representative Stewart Udall and Senator
Barry Goldwater, both of Arizona, supported the CRSP.
The Bureau of Reclamation had estimated that something over 30 million acre feet of storage would be necessary to meet downstream needs should a drought such as 1933-34 recur. Since a reservoir at Echo Park would have held only 6.4 m.a.f. compared to Glen Canyon’s 26 m.a.f., obviously, a dam in Glen Canyon was the key to the feasibility of the entire CRSP plan. Had Brower actually tried to and succeeded in eliminating Glen Canyon Dam, the entire CRSP would have been killed. (Reference: Bud Rusho, History of Glen Canyon Dam).
The Lake will never fill again.
Reality: Although the full pool elevation is 3700' msl, the designed 'normal' elevation of Lake Powell is 3640'. Wet and dry cycles are a regular part of the Colorado River. Lake Powell was created to hold water during the pulse events (i.e. spring snowmelt and wet years) and then release this water during the dry season and times of drought.
The gates to Glen Canyon were closed in 1963 and Lake Powell gradually filled under somewhat droughty conditions. The lake reached full pool in 1980 several years before the high runoff years of 1983 and 1984. Droughts are a regular part of the Colorado River system and a drought in the early 1990's drew down the lake 88 feet. However, all it took was a few good years of snowmelt to return the lake to nearly full conditions.
The runoff for 2005 is projected to increase Lake Powell by 50 feet and the lake will end the year 20 feet higher than it was in 2004. From 2000 to 2004, the region experienced 5 consecutive years of extreme drought... the severity of which are unlikely to be repeated in the next 5 years. A return to just normal runoff conditions will rise the lake significantly. In fact, it will be possible to reach the design elevation of 3640' with just a few years of normal runoff. Rising lake levels can be expected even in the context of a prolonged drought since typically the weather patterns produce a mix of wet, normal and dry years.
Over the last 10 years, Glen Canyon Dam has released almost 100 million acre-feet down the lower basin far in excess of what was dictated by the 1922 Compact. These excess releases from Powell were specified by the Long Range Operating Criteria of the Colorado River system and were necessitated by full pool conditions at Lake Powell and Lake Mead equalization criteria. As Lake Powell refills, these types of excess flows will be unnecessary and so in the future Lake Powell will be able to keep more of its spring runoff each year.
Given enough time and with all factors considered, the level of Lake Powell will eventually reach equilibrium with it's design elevation of 3640 plus or minus 30 feet.
Myth: The Dam is unsafe.
Reality: Contrary to the claims of a few environmental groups, the Bureau of Reclamation considers Glen Canyon Dam to be one of the safest dams in the world. The Reclamation's Dam Safety Program has produced four complete Safety Evaluations (1982, 1984, 1989 and 1995), a 1991 Structural Behavior Report and in 1998 undertook a Comprehensive Facilities Review. All reports are public documents and were peered reviewed. It is true that the spillways (not the dam) were damaged by cavitational forces in 1983. However, the spillways were re-engineered in 1984 and now incorporate "air slots" which prevent cavitation by allowing the water to flow down on a cushion of air. Following this modification, water release tests were performed and a rigorous inspection conducted. No subsequent damage was noted and the Bureau considers the spillway problem to be a "once in a lifetime" event. The structural integrity of the dam has never been an issue.
Myth: Lake Powell will be filled with silt in another century.
Reality: Although an estimated 65,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of sediment are annually deposited in Lake Powell, measurements conducted in the mid-1970's showed a sedimentation rate at the dam of less than 1 cm per year. Calculations based on lake-wide sonar measurements indicated that the lake could hold a 700-year supply of silt, assuming no mitigating activities were pursued. When the need arises in the distant future, the life of the lake can be extended significantly by allowing silt to pass through the jet tubes and/or or the spillways. Eventually, the character of Lake Powell will change but for thousands of years the lake will keep providing water for recreation and thousand of acres of riparian habitat.
Myth: A "restored" Glen Canyon would replace Lake Powell as a tourist attraction and local economies would not be destroyed.
Reality: With no roads and no infrastructure, recreational access to Glen Canyon was and would be extremely limited. Rafting permits issued by the Park Service would not likely exceed 30,000 rafters per year. It would be another place you couldn't visit...with huge waiting lists many magnitudes greater than the Grand Canyon. This would be especially true when you consider that there were no rapids in Glen Canyon that would require specialized skills and equipment. Almost anyone could float the river with an inflatable raft, canoe or kayak. The Glen Canyon lottery system would limit you to one trip per lifetime similar to getting drawn for a bighorn sheep tag in Arizona.
Stranded atop Manson Mesa with no river access, the City of Page would receive almost no economic benefit from the rafting community floating by below the sheer cliffs. In contrast, the current lake-based recreational activities contribute an estimated $300 to 400 million dollars to local economies each year.
The impact of eliminating the largest economic engine in this remote area of the American Southwest would be disastrous. Draining Lake Powell would mean shutting down the Navajo Generating Station near Page, an electrical generating facility that employs hundreds of Native Americans on a reservation where the unemployment rate approaches 50%. The Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations would suffer millions of dollars of lost revenue and royalties.
The Federal Government would also lose $90 million dollars of revenue created by the sale of power from Glen Canyon Dam each year. In Page, Arizona -- a community whose economy depends almost entirely on tourism generated by Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Recreation Area -- countless jobs would be lost and local property values would plummet. In the end, the tremendous economic cost of draining Lake Powell would fall squarely on the shoulders on the American taxpayer.
Myth: Evaporation from Lake Powell is unacceptably high.
Reality: Compared to the amount of water that Lake Powell stores (27 million acre feet), the evaporation rate is low (about 3 percent, or 560,000 acre feet). This is due to the narrow, deep configuration of the lake and its 3700' high desert altitude. Without Lake Powell, water would likely be stored at hotter and more exposed locations in the lower desert where evaporation rates are much higher. It is estimated that the new Tempe Town Lake will have an annual evaporation rate of 40%. It is also important to note that the historic Colorado River through Glen Canyon before the dam had an estimated evaporation rate of 227,000 acre feet per year.
Myth: Hydroelectric power is easily replaceable.
Reality: Hydropower is an important part of our national power portfolio for several reasons. Electricity is generated using a renewable energy source that saves a significant amount of coal, oil or gas each year. There are no smoke stack emissions that contribute to acid rain, global warming and no nuclear disposal problems. In just 35 years, power from Glen Canyon Dam has saved the equivalent of burning 63 million tons of coal and the release of 320 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
It is unlikely that solar panels and wind generation will replace hydroelectric facilities any time soon. Solar panels are still expensive and they consume valuable open space and desert habitat. Wind generators also consume acreage and impose a visual blight to the landscape. Also, the Sierra Club has called the spinning blades "quisinarts in the air" due to the high numbers of raptors that are lost each year as they hunt for small game nearby and mistakenly get too close to the generators.
Myth: A lush, biologically rich ecosystem downstream of Glen Canyon Dam has been destroyed.
Reality: Contrary to popular belief, the historic downstream environment through the Grand Canyon was limited in biologic production due to ravaging floods and a high silt content which prevented sunlight from penetrating the water column. Life, where it could exist, was very limited throughout much of the Grand Canyon corridor.
Since the creation of Glen Canyon Dam, there has been a tremendous explosion of biological productivity downstream through the Grand Canyon largely due to flood control and the release of clean water. Sunlight now penetrates the water column and has stimulated the downstream ecosystem resulting in a huge increase in biomass. The lack of flooding as increased the available riparian area available to wildlife. The number of marshes in the Grand Canyon increased from just five in 1965 to sixty-five by 1976.
The lush riparian corridor that now exists below Glen Canyon Dam has become an important environmental haven for many animal species such as bald eagles, herons, ducks, beavers, insect loving bats and the once-endangered peregrine falcon, to name a few. Over twenty-one different species of migratory waterfowl spend their winters in Marble Canyon and last but not least, the tailwaters below Glen Canyon Dam have created a world-class trout fishery at Lees Ferry.