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Living Rivers Currents
March 10, 2002

River Guides for the Colorado River

Grand Canyon River Guides call for draining Lake Powell
Grand Canyon River Guides call for draining Lake Powell
Vol. 2, No. 3, March 2002

In 1996 Colorado Plateau River Guides (CPRG) became one of the first organizations to publicly call for the decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam. A fairly straightforward action most would assume, but in the complex realm of the river recreation industry, the action so far is unique.

In early days of river running, the river outfitting business was a small-scale seat-of-the-pants business. When dams were proposed, opposition was fierce, albeit not always successful. Lost revenue was certainly a concern, but there was clearly a passion for maintaining wild rivers. As the industry has matured, and the number of new dam proposals ground to near zero, advocacy in the river business has shifted more toward perceiving business opportunities, than for the river itself.

For example, in the 1950s a task force of Western River Guides Association endeavored to stop construction of Glen Canyon Dam. That organization has since evolved into American Outdoors, the nation's leading trade association for outfitters. But despite nearly 100 organizations already on board with the decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam, American Outdoors has yet to join on.

"The guides, too, are often caught up in the business side of the culture. Guides are generally so happy to be employed as river runners, they are often reluctant to become involved in advocating something their employers are not yet willing to support," says Annie Tueller-Payne, president of CPRG.

Nowhere is this better reflected than amongst the guides in Grand Canyon, whose ecosystem is being destroyed by Glen Canyon Dam. Now, six years after CPRG called for decommissioning, only 34 percent of the Grand Canyon guides believe there is enough information to support such a position.

Payne continues, "They've lost their beaches, the native fish are dying, and the rapids never change. Flows that once fluctuated from 4,000 to 90,000 cfs now fluctuate little beyond 8,000 to 20,000 cfs. Where is their environmental ethic? I guess more of our education needs to be directed down there."

"Such advocacy work is now unprecedented in the guiding community. No river industry group has ever provided such leadership in putting river resources first," says David Focardi, vice-president of CPRG. "We want to walk the talk. River guides have a captive audience of people who vote and guides need to capitalize on this. No other group has the ability to advance this campaign forward than do river guides. The guides need to know the issues about river ecosystems and how to protect them. They also must be able to answer the questions about ecosystem restoration and CPRG will be there to provide them with that information."

In May, LIVING RIVERS will be welcoming CPRG as one of our sponsored projects. You will be able to find information about their programs at

LIVING RIVERS will also be welcoming the formation of River Runners for Wilderness, whose mission is to promote wilderness river corridors within the Colorado watershed. We're pleased to be supporting increased river advocacy within the river recreation industry and look forward to further partnerships like these that strengthen the movement to bring about the Colorado River's protection.

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Last Update: October 30, 2007

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