T-I Guest Editorial: The future of Glen Canyon Dam
by Commissioner John Keys, Bureau of Reclamation
Nov 10, 2005 | 643 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    The recently-released scientific reviews of last

fall’s High Flow Test Experiment at Glen Canyon Dam and the concurrent

release of a 10-year review of science work on the Colorado River

contain an important message for millions of Western water users.

    And the usual doomsayers, representing a very small

number of people with a very big agenda, have once again launched into

their tired diatribe about the dam without any acknowledgement of what

the adaptive science program has accomplished or of the true views of

Congress and the American people.

    The irony is that the U.S. Geological Survey’s The

State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon, or SCORE report,

summarized 10 years of knowledge that was openly available. 

There’s nothing new there – we’ve all been working for 10 years on what

was included in the report.  Meanwhile, the positive news from the

November 2004 High Flow Test Experiment has received little attention.

    Previous Administrations of both political parties,

as well as the U.S. Congress, have said that Glen Canyon Dam is here to

stay because it is serving millions of people in the Southwestern

United States.  

    Congress, through the passage of the Grand Canyon

Protection Act of 1992, clearly stated that the dam and reservoir have

a place in the tapestry of the country.  The Act requires the

Bureau of Reclamation to operate the dam “fully consistent with and

subject to the Colorado River Compact…that govern[s] allocation,

appropriation, development, and exportation of the waters of the

Colorado River Basin.”  It also requires the operation of the dam

in a manner that will “protect, mitigate adverse impacts to, and

improve the values for which Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon

National Recreation Area were established…”  

    Congress and the American people expect Glen Canyon

Dam to provide the benefits for which it was established and, at the

same time, they expect us to work closely through the Adaptive

Management Program and the federally chartered advisory committee that

advises the Department of the Interior concerning scientific studies

and review of operations and mitigating activities.  This critical

facility is being operated with a sensitive ear towards the information

being gleaned from the largest, and best funded, adaptive management

program that has ever been undertaken in the United States.  

    That is exactly why the Congress, as well as both

this administration and the previous one, funded the Adaptive

Management Program.  That is why the power customers who purchase

hydropower from the dam have supported funding the Adaptive Management

Program to the tune of some $8 million per year.  That is why the

governors of the seven Colorado River Basin States continue to

participate.  That is why the Indian Tribes of the Colorado River

participate.  Reasonable people and organizations are joining

together to help us learn, adjust, and adapt the operation of the dam

while it continues to serve over 25 million people with vital water and

power supplies.  

    Let’s pick the most visible experiment we have

conducted as an example.  One year ago, we released high flows

that many termed “flood flows” to test our ability to rejuvenate

beaches and backwaters downstream in the Grand Canyon.  We all

agree that the clear water released from the dam leads to erosion of

those critical features.  But this is where the debate gets


    The studies clearly determined that we can, in fact,

rebuild beaches if the flows are timed to make use of sediment that

comes from tributary inflows.  The studies also seem to indicate

that we need to look more closely at the frequency of those

flows.  So, should we ignore these recent positive findings

because of the erosion issue -- or should we be encouraged that an

experiment successfully informed us that we can use sediment inputs in

a managed situation?   

    Over the past 10 years, we have tested; we have

tried procedures; we have operated for periods of time with an eye

towards discovering something unknown; we have pondered and tested


    Through it all, we have continued to operate a

critically needed 1,320 megawatt power plant.  Through it all, we

delivered water to meet legal compact requirements annually during the

worst drought in over 100 years of record keeping.  Through it

all, we continued to provide assured flows that thousands of customers

who support the river running and fishing guide industry downstream of

the dam depend upon.  Through it all, Lake Powell has continued to

provide millions of hours of rest and recreation to Americans of all

ages.  Glen Canyon Dam serves as the Congress envisioned in 1956

when it passed the Colorado River Storage Project Act; moreover,

Reclamation operates this facility in full compliance with Congress’

direction in the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act.  

    As we begin a new phase of this adaptive management

program, I want to say that I am proud of Glen Canyon Dam and the men

and women of the Bureau of Reclamation who operate it.  I am also

proud of the dedicated work of the federal advisory committee, the

Adaptive Management Working Group, proud of those who donate their time

and efforts to learning more about the river system, and of the

scientists who continually conduct the experiments that will, over

time, enable us to continue to better operate Glen Canyon Dam.  

    My pledge is that the Bureau of Reclamation and I

will continue to operate and maintain Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell

as Congress has directed and as the American people want.

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