Blind zeal for draining Lake Powell twists facts

July 13, 2002

In the June 17 article "Dams' role in flux for urban West," Lisa Force, program director of Living Rivers, attacked Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

Force asserted that the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon "is on the brink of collapse" and disputed the critical importance of Glen Canyon's water storage and power production.

This distorted picture is symptomatic of the misinformation dispensed by Living Rivers.

It is also demonstrably false.

I encourage Arizonans to go see for themselves the vibrancy of the Grand Canyon ecosystem. Without extreme seasonal floods prevented by the dam the ecosystem of the canyon has changed, but it is not on the brink of collapse.

Rob Elliot, a board member of the Grand Canyon Trust, described it in testimony before Congress:

"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."

In their zeal to drain Lake Powell, Living Rivers ignores the environmental devastation which this action would cause.

This would include massive air pollution problems as sediments on the lake bottom dry and become airborne, as has already happened at Owens Lake in California.

The bald eagle, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, would be deprived of its food source of lake fish.

Draining it would annihilate the thriving trout population at Lees Ferry, which could not survive in a naturally flood-prone Colorado River.

The economic effects of draining the lake would be no less crippling. People in Page and the Navajo Nation, who directly depend on the lake, would lose their livelihoods and be forced to leave their homes or be impoverished.

Communities throughout Arizona and the entire Southwest would lose the electricity of Glen Canyon Dam and Navajo Generating Station, which have saved California from blackouts four times in the last two years.

Draining Lake Powell would also preclude a plan by the Hopi Tribe to build a pipeline to carry water to their lands.

Most vitally, the two-year supply of water stored in Lake Powell, the Southwest's insurance against a long-term drought like the one which forced most residents of Phoenix to evacuate 100 years ago, would be lost.

We are currently undergoing a drought of similar severity. The six months from last October to this March is the second-driest period in Arizona's recorded history and the worst since 1904.

The difference between today's drought and that of 1900 is that we now have reservoirs like Lake Powell to store our water supply. The immutable law of nature is that water is life. This is self-evident to most Arizonans, as illustrated in The Republic's recent poll showing that 61 percent of Arizonans are "very concerned" about water quality and availability.

Yet for some, the convenience of having water available by simply turning on a faucet has obscured this fact and allowed groups like Living Rivers and the Sierra Club to seriously advocate draining the lake.

Living Rivers bluntly stated its support for draining Lake Powell in their newsletter Drainit Times: "Living Rivers believes that more dam re-operation studies are unnecessary. It's no longer a question of whether Lake Powell Reservoir should be drained, but how and how fast."

This blind dedication to a goal which would devastate Arizona and runs counter to both science and common sense is ludicrous. It is a danger as severe as the opposition of similar extremists to prudent management of our forests, which has tragically led to the devastation of both our forests and the lives of thousands by the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire.

It is unfortunate that some extremists cannot get beyond their narrow view and understand the importance of Lake Powell to the people of Arizona.

John Shadegg, a Republican, represents Arizona's 4th Congressional District and is a board member of Friends of Lake Powell.

 

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