A Coronary Bypass
Only thirty years ago the Colorado was as young and
athletic as any river in the world. Flows varied from a trickle of 1,000 cfs in the winter
to raging floods of over 100,000 cfs in the spring. She carried an average of half a
million tons of sediment each day. In other words she not only exercised regularly, she
frequently ran marathons. We all revel in the thought of running the old river. Today she
lies sedate with many of her resources; beaches, fish, aquatic communities, struggling for
survival. At the conclusion of this EIS we may find that she needs more than careful
attention, that she needs more positive rejuvenation. In that case we should look at a
couple of structural solutions.
The alternatives of the nearly completed Environmental Impact Statement focus
on operational measures to help our patient. Rightly so. The notions of building another
dam above Lees Ferry or sending barges down to pump sand up onto selected beaches
addressed the symptoms, not the cause. We wanted to learn the extent of her injury and do
all we could to comfort her in hopes that she will get back on her feet. Perhaps enough
sediment can be stored by dampening releases from the dam to rebuild beaches. Perhaps
lowering flows in the summer will warm the waters and help the Humpback Chub prosper.
But what if the medical bills soar and the patient fails to repond? What if
the beaches dont build and low, steady flows breed mosquitos and send boats on the
rocks? And the warm, clear backwaters turn out to be more to the liking of exotic
predators than juvenile chub. And the power bills rise as peaking power is reduced. And we
spend more and more on a search for finer and finer ways to help the system.
Then I think we should consider a couple of other solutions, solutions that
we have catagorically rejected until now. We should step back from the Canyon and consider
ways to restore the blood and circulation to the Colorado before it reaches the Lees
Ferry. We can consider giving the Colorado River a coronary bypass.
Warm, muddy water was the lifeblood of the Colorado. While we cannot (and may
not want to) restore the predam floods, we can partially restore the warm, muddy waters.
We should seriously consider structural means of warming the river and adding sediment.
The first may be accomplished by building multiple intake structures on the upstream side
of the Dam. These would allow warmer water to be drawn off the upper levels of the lake
during periods critical to native fish. Warmer water may even benefit the trout fishery
above Lees Ferry as it has below Flaming Gorge Dam in Wyoming.
The second could be a sediment slurry line to transport Colorado River mud
from the base of Cataract Canyon to the head of Grand Canyon. Technically such a pipeline
is challenging but not outlandish. A similar slurry line now carries coal from Black Mesa
across northern Arizona to a power plant in Nevada, a distance 50% greater. The pipe need
not be blasted into the solid rock surrounding Lake Powell, but could be floated
underwater down the center of the reservoir along the existing navigation bouys. Sediment
transported directly from Cataract would be free of the dangerous buildups of uranium and
heavy metals in the bottom of the lake. In order to preserve the Lees Ferry fishery the
sediment could be brought to the Colorado at the mouth of the Paria River. Operated
seasonally such a pipeline may add enough sediment to rejuvenate the natural processes in
Blasphamy you say. The engineers have done enough damage! Its true that
each of these will cost money to build and operate. But these costs should be weighed
against the alternative costs of maintaining a close and intensive vigil over our patient.
It may be that these are solutions are not needed and thats fine. But they should be
considered as we search for long-term solutions to the effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the
Colorado River through Grand Canyon.