Vol. 2, No. 3, March 2002
Nearly fifty years ago, one of the most celebrated campaigns in the history of river advocacy began. The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and the Izaac Walton League successfully fought to protect Dinosaur National Monument on the Green River from inundation by the proposed Echo Park and Split Mountain dams. Despite that victory two other dams were constructed above Dinosaur. This summer LIVING RIVERS will be ramping up efforts to eliminate these two dams to bring about one of the longest dam-free rivers in the continental United States.
As reported on previously in LIVING RIVERS Currents, the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) plans to release a draft environmental impact statement for its plans to alter the operations of the 502-foot-high Flaming Gorge Dam in an effort to correct the damís impacts on endangered fish habitat in Dinosaur National Monument downstream. Weíve recently learned that this document will be published in late summer, and despite the demands of LIVING RIVERS and the sixty environmental organizations which supported us, BuRec will not evaluate the decommissioning of this dam as one of its alternatives to achieve the necessary mitigation.
The Bureau is violating the spirit of the National Environmental Policy Act,î says Brian Dunkiel, staff attorney with Friends of the Earth. ìDam decommissioning is being supported by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and a number of state agencies as a means to recover endangered species. The Bureau has a legal obligation to consider this as a reasonable and scientifically defensible alternative for endangered fish recovery on the Green River.î
Unfortunately, this was not a surprise. LIVING RIVERS had anticipated the need to be prepared to mobilize the legal resources to ensure this matter be properly addressed by the courts. Removing Flaming Gorge Dam alone, however, will not be enough to reestablish native fish habitat in Dinosaur National Monument, because a much smaller dam upstream of Flaming Gorge duplicates the problem. The 139-foot-high Fontenelle Dam must also be decommissioned. Its 29-mile reservoir stores only 1.3 percent the amount of water of the reservoirs behind Glen Canyon or Hoover dams, and its 10MW power generation represents slightly more than half that of the two dams currently being slated for decommissioning in Olympia National Park. Moreover, its earthen structure has been plagued with leaks since its completion. Therefore, advocating Fontenelleís removal will generate negligible controversy relative to Flaming Gorge upstream.
The Sierra Club et.al. succeeded in protecting Dinosaur National Monument from inundation a half century ago, but faild to prevent the slow death of its riverine habitat by dams upstream,î says LIVING RIVERS executive director, Owen Lammers. ìWe hope, however, that the same nationwide enthusiasm and passion can again be mobilized on Dinosaurís behalf, leading to further success.î
Lasting protection for Dinosaur National Monument is critical, but the removal of these two dams will also pave the way for re-opening discussions for a Green River National Park. This nearly 500-mile-long river corridor was proposed for protection prior to BuRecís interests in the Green River. Nearly all the land remains in the public trust; thus, establishing the nationís longest park would indeed be viable and a fitting testament to the work and vision of the environmental leaders of the past.