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
• Glen Canyon Dam has a finite life span due to some combination
of the following processes:
• 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