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  Glen Canyon Dam
  BQR ~ winter 1997-98

Glen Canyon Institute's proposal to drain Lake Powell in order to restore river ecosystems in Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon has received a lot of public attention. The Sierra Club Board of Directors voted unanimously in favor of the draining of Lake Powell. Lately people have been asking us where we stand on this issue.
After many heated and wonderful discussions at board meetings, we reached the following consensus, which we expect will continue to evolve.

• Glen Canyon Dam has a finite life span due to some combination of the following processes:
• siltation
• concrete/rebar degradation
• spillway failure
• abutment failure.
• a planned and non-catastrophic solution is infinitely superior to dam failure due to any of the above processes.
• any proposed solutions must be considered from the viewpoint of the entire river ecosystem and its dependent communities.
• a major public addressing of this very complex issue is essential. Now is the time to plan a sane path to a post-dam environment, rather than to deny or ignore this eventuality.
However, we also recognize that:
• dam or no dam, the Grand Canyon ecosystem will probably never return to its pre-dam biological condition, due to the introduction of hundreds of exotic species into the system.
• any long-term plan must include careful consideration of threatened and endangered species whose habitat elsewhere has been eliminated, and which are now safely harbored in Grand Canyon's current ‘artificial' ecosystem.

We propose that two management plans be developed simultaneously to achieve sustainable use of the Colorado River. Development of these plans should begin immediately, one for the short term and one for the long term.
1. Short-term sustainability plan (25 year time frame) includes: conservation and preservation of endangered and threatened species which now rely on the dam-influenced system; restoration of other wetland habitats in the Southwest that will ensure biological diversity and conservation of threatened species; preservation of archeological and historical sites; continuance of recreational opportunities for visitors, including adequate camping beaches.
2. Long-term sustainability plan (100 year time frame) includes: drain large reservoirs in the arid portion of the Colorado River basin to restore sediment movement, reduce evaporation and seepage losses, reduce salinization of water and soils, and restore natural habitat in the river and delta.

We need to look for creative alternative solutions to supplying water for agricultural and municipal needs from the Colorado River, and then pay the true environmental and infrastructural costs for supplying it. Some possible ideas are: use existing dams in the headwaters of the upper basin to distribute water to downstream farms and municipalities; maintain low water diversion dams (capable of through-routing sediment) to grow essential crops and provide economically-viable municipal water; replace existing reliance on hydroelectric power with solar electric farms and energy conservation measures; employ Native Americans and local communities in the conversion to new energy resources and sustainable economies.

No doubt, there are a great many more worthwhile ideas floating around out there. We are limited only by our unwillingness to change. Glen Canyon Institute and the Sierra Club have initiated a powerfully important public discussion on our future relationship to the river. Let's use this time to explore alternatives and unleash creative solutions so that we can develop a sustainable future for people in the Southwest.

the Board of Directors, Grand Canyon River Guides, January, 1998


big horn sheep