|The Colorado River system: Dams and drought|
|John W. Keys III
Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Salt Lake Tribune
|The numbers are in and the winners are - the more than 25 million
people who depend upon the Colorado River system for their daily water supply.
After serving the people of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming through the worst five-year drought in 100 years of record-keeping, the Colorado River system is recovering and recharging. In doing so, immediate needs and obligations will continue to be met while we regain storage for the next dry period.
My views on the Colorado River system are shaped by two equally important vantage points. I'm writing this from my desk in the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., where I am commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency entrusted by the Interior Department to manage water in the West.
Equally, I also feel that I am writing from my back porch in Moab, Utah, where my home is. You see, I am also one of those 25 million people who keep a careful eye on the Colorado River as it rolls past our towns and farms.
All across the Colorado River Basin, the smaller water projects that Reclamation has constructed over the years refilled. As the drought persisted, those reservoirs were taxed to the maximum. Many were drawn down to near bottom. Without them, cities and farms alike would have been bone dry years ago.
Looking at Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam, I really understand the foresight of those in Congress and past administrations who formulated the Colorado River Storage Project. They envisioned that a long-term drought would develop at a point in time when growing populations and water demands would run head-to-head with a drought-starved water supply.
Over the past five years, Lake Powell went down by two-thirds of its capacity, but in doing so it insured that Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam would stay viable. Without Lake Powell, there would have been no Lake Mead. Without the two dams, Arizona, California and Nevada and Mexican water users would have had serious troubles.
I can't overstate the importance of storing spring runoff. The Colorado River is one driven by winter snowfall, spring melt and high runoff, and then low summer and fall flows. Unlike the great rivers in the eastern states, it is not heavily influenced or served by summer rainfall. Here we must take what Mother Nature gives us in snowmelt, conserve it, and carefully release it throughout the rest of the year.
So, in a few words, why is Lake Powell so important? Why does it stand out from all the other storage on the Colorado River?
Lake Powell gives us the long-term storage capacity to ride out droughts and to deal with the increasing demands that come with the phenomenal economic growth in the Southwest. Naysayers who question Lake Powell's relevance somehow believe that because the Southwest will continue to grow, further taxing the water supplies, that becomes the reason to do away with Lake Powell.
The logic escapes me. We need to be stewards of our stored water, the Bureau of Reclamation working with the states. As I've said time and again, the keys to viability and survivability for the Southwest come in balancing growing demands for water, respecting state water laws and the treaty with Mexico, and stretching limited supplies through inevitable prolonged drought conditions.
We are doing that today and we will continue in generations to come.
When I think of Lake Powell, I really do think of Secretary Gale Norton's "4 C's" credo that guides the Department of the Interior. It goes like this: Consultation, cooperation, and communication - all in the service of conservation. We are truly attempting to consult, cooperate, and communicate to conserve the single greatest resource we have in the Colorado River Basin - our water supply.
John W. Keys III is commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.