LRC V2, N1, January 2002
Along with every watt of power extracted from the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam goes another piece of Grand Canyon?s natural heritage. The hourly, daily and seasonal regulation of flows at the dam to accommodate variations in energy demand is one of the major variables causing habitat degradation in the nation?s premier national park. Although scientists have been pushing for releases that mimic more the river?s natural flow condition, those representing electrical utilities remain unconvinced. According to some, power interests are using their influence to impede efforts to reverse the decline of the Grand Canyon ecosystem.
?From the beginning, power users have had to be dragged into this kicking and screaming,? said Dave Wegner, who headed up Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, forerunner of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. ?We lost two years alone navigating the hoops and hurdles they put in our way just to run our first test back in 1996.?
Others working with the Adaptive Management Program now concur, citing a general pattern of objections to most proposals, dragging out decisions and delaying action whenever possible. ?Meanwhile, the situation in the Canyon worsens,? stated Nikolai Ramsey of the Grand Canyon Trust. ?The latest studies show that humpback chub, an endangered fish, are in substantial decline.?
?It?s categorically untrue that power interests are obfuscating or impeding this process,? said Clayton Palmer, with the Western Area Power Administration, the federal agency responsible for marketing power from Glen Canyon Dam. Palmer cited several examples where other agencies were unwilling to support proposals advanced by power interests. One, advocating large releases which might aid with preserving sediment in the Canyon, was opposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service concerned about impacts on an endangered invertebrate, the Kanab ambersnail.
Palmer and other power proponents are quick to point out that they are indeed full partners, as nearly all the money used for Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management comes from hydropower revenues. ?It?s ludicrous that other government agencies and private foundations aren?t helping us out,? said Leslie James of Colorado River Energy Distributors Association. Such mitigation funds are, however, routinely tied to hydropower revenues.
James also argues that there is not yet enough science to determine if dam operations are the major problem. But a new report out for review this month by Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center indicated that dam operations are affecting not only native fish, but also the food web of the entire Canyon. Native biodiversity of the Grand Canyon?s river ecosystem is on a downward spiral, largely the result of Glen Canyon Dam. The report recommends that dam operations mimic seasonal flows, not fluctuating flows. Utilities are concerned because this would cause a price increase for power from Glen Canyon Dam of about 21 percent, to about $21 per megawatt. This is still a bargain, costing only about half the price these utilities would pay should they choose to obtain power from other sources.