Glen Canyon Dam will stand

  Glen Canyon Dam isn’t coming down. That’s the final word from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on calls to dismantle the dam, drain Lake Powell and release the waters of the Colorado (HCN, 12/22/03: Being green in the land of the saints).

Under orders from Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the agency must develop a drought-management plan for Lake Powell and Lake Mead by December 2007. At a public meeting in Salt Lake City in July, the Moab-based nonprofit Living Rivers proposed decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam and using Lake Mead, downstream from Powell, as the river’s principal storage facility. Additional water could then be stored underground in aquifers, rather than in Powell, which loses about 1 million acre-feet of water per year to evaporation and seepage.

But at the meeting, Randy Peterson, the Bureau’s regional manager for environmental resources, said the agency will not consider any such proposals. "The reality is, the secretary told us to consider how these two reservoirs should be operated in times of shortage," says Barry Wirth, the Bureau’s Upper Region public affairs officer. "We have no legal authority to eliminate one of them."

That would require an act of Congress, says Wirth, "and Congress has gone the other way in recent years — they’re not going to consider proposals (to tear down dams)."

But John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers, says keeping water in aboveground reservoirs is inefficient. "If the purpose of the study is to save water, the Bureau is not going about it according to what science has to say."

The Bureau is currently analyzing management alternatives, and will hold more public meetings later this year.