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River News
June 17, 2002

Declaration for the Restoration of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon

We gather here today atop Hoover Dam on June 17th 2002, the centennial of the founding of the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec). One hundred years ago Congress passed the Reclamation Act of 1902, spawning an epoch of dam building and river diversion unsurpassed by any resource management agency in the developed world. More than 600 BuRec dams dot the landscape of the 17 western states, with their tallest concrete dam being the one beneath us. Just upstream lay the degraded remains of the once thriving Grand Canyon ecosystem. The demise of this Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, symbolizes the unnecessary impacts brought upon rivers throughout the West by BuRec's environmentally and culturally destructive policies designed to optimize water delivery.

Although BuRec's present mission states, "... protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public," the agency has yet to demonstrate a significant commitment to environmental stewardship or to recognize the significant water scarcity problems that future generations will face. BuRec's day-to-day policies remain largely driven by the water and power industries, whose economic viability is largely dependent upon subsidies sponsored by the Federal government. Throughout its domain BuRec's promotion of wasteful water and energy practices has resulted in the loss of functioning rivers, the loss of critical habitat, and the loss of natural and cultural heritage.

Nowhere are these losses more pronounced than in the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. In 1941, as Lake Mead reservoir filled, 20 percent of the Grand Canyon was inundated behind Hoover Dam. In 1963, upstream of Grand Canyon, the gates at Glen Canyon Dam closed, which initiated a slow, and left unchecked, potentially lethal blow to the remainder of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

The following impacts on the collapsing Grand Canyon ecosystem are now evident:

… Ninety-five percent of the sediment and nutrients that once flowed into Grand Canyon's riverine ecosystem are now trapped behind Glen Canyon Dam causing the beaches to erode away and the native vegetation to disappear, disrupting the historic food base.

… Seasonal water temperatures that previously fluctuated from freezing to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, now range from 43 to 55 degrees, blocking the warm water necessary to trigger native animal reproduction, and fostering non-native fish species at the expense of native species.

… Natural flows, which fluctuated seasonally from 3,000 to 90,000 cubic feet per second, now can fluctuate only from 8,000 to 20,000, cubic feet per second, creating a near static flow regime for an ecosystem that is adapted to and dependent upon the dynamic pre-dam flow. Public concern about these devastating impacts caused BuRec, in 1982, to establish the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies. In 1992 Congress passed the Grand Canyon Protection Act, and in 1996 new rules were established for altering the operation of Glen Canyon Dam. Unfortunately, a narrow interpretation of these laws has failed to halt the further decline of Grand Canyon's native habitat. Other impacts to the ecosystem include:

… A green non-native algae called cladophora has replaced the natural food mix of macroinvertebrates, such as insects.

… Of the 50 to 100 insect species that once formed the food base of the Grand Canyon, none remain. They have been replaced by 25 alien species.

… Of the eight native Colorado River fish, four are extirpated, and two are struggling for survival. Twenty alien species now thrive in the artificial environment.

… Otters and muskrats are now gone from the Canyon, in part due to loss of streamside wetlands.

… Native riparian vegetation is disappearing from the high water zone, or is stunted due to the lack of nutrients and the invasion of competing non-native plants.

… Erosion poses a threat to native burial and sacred sites near the riverbed, and the loss of native species represents additional native cultural losses.

These changes represent a significant violation of the National Park Service's Organic Act (1916), which requires that the Department of Interior ensure the protection of the natural integrity of Grand Canyon's resources for future generations. The Organic Act and the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park pre-date the decision to construct Glen Canyon Dam. Whereas numerous alternatives exist to provide for the societal needs associated with Glen Canyon Dam, there are no alternatives to the unique ecosystem that is Grand Canyon National Park. Moreover, according to BuRec documents, safety concerns associated with the continued operation of Glen Canyon dam pose a significant risk to the ecology and to the native cultures throughout the Grand Canyon in the event of dam failure.

Grand Canyon's river corridor environment is also suffering due to the proliferation of motorized watercraft, in what otherwise would be designated wilderness area. Noise and effluent from motor boats are adding additional stress to an already overburdened ecosystem.

The construction and operation of BuRec facilities has brought about the near collapse of the Grand Canyon ecosystem. For over twenty years the public has been demanding action, but the decline has continued. As the Canyon's needs are self-evident, we call upon the BuRec to deliver the following:

… The restoration of essential sediment and nutrient flows from the main stem Colorado into Grand Canyon.

… The restoration of natural flow regimes to properly transport this sediment within Grand Canyon, when and where it belongs.

… The restoration of more natural seasonally variable water temperatures in the main stem Colorado through Grand Canyon.

BuRec and the National Park Service must also cooperate to:

… Develop a restoration and recovery program for the Colorado River corridor in Grand Canyon that includes the full recovery of all species known to be native to Grand Canyon prior to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam.

… Implement a non-native eradication program to minimize alien species in the Grand Canyon river corridor with a priority on those that prey on, compete with, or otherwise impair the health of native plants and animals.

To aid in the restoration effort and ensure equitable access to a restored Grand Canyon riverine ecosystem we further request management of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon as wilderness, as is currently the policy for the surrounding landscape, precluding the use of motorized watercraft.

The Grand Canyon is a world-renowned resource that demands restoration. It is, however, merely the most famous of river corridors devastated by BuRec projects and policies. We call upon BuRec, on this, its centennial day, to demonstrate to the public its commitment to reversing this damage by reviving the Grand Canyon ecosystem as its first significant step in an agency-wide effort to, as its mission states, "…protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public."

Presented here at Hoover Dam on the 17th Day of June 2002, one hundred years after passage of the Reclamation Act, by the following undersigned advocates for Grand Canyon restoration.

Access for All
Alliance for Sustainable Communities
Alliance for the wild Rockies
American Lands Alliance
Bear Creek Farms
Blue Water Network
Bridgerland Audubon Society
Canoe Cruisers Association of Greater Washington, DC
Center for Biological Diversity
Central AZ Paddlers Club
Christions Caring for Creation
Citizens Progressive Alliance
Clearwater Biodiversity Project
Colorado Plateau River Guides
Colorado Rivers Alliance
Committee for Idaho’s High Desert
Community Clean Water Institute
Copper River Watershed Project
Dine Medicinemens Association
Earth Island Institute
Electors Concerned About Animas
Endangered Habitats League
Escalante Wilderness Project
Eyak Preservation Council
Flagstaff Activist Network
Forest Conservation Council
Four Corners School of Outdoor Educations
Friends of AZ Rivers
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Eel River
Friends of the Los Angeles River
Friends of the Santa Clara River
Friends of Yosemite Valley
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Great Swamp Watershed Association
Green Delaware
Hudspeth County Green Party
International Rivers Network
John Muir Project
Jumping Frog Research Institute
Kettle Range Conservation Group
Land Institute
Living Oregon Waters
Living Rivers
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Maricopa Audubon Society
Montana River Action
National Forest Protection Alliance
Northwest Rafters Association
Oil & Gas Accountability Project
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Oregon Toxics Alliance
Pequannock River Coalition
River Runners for Wilderness
Riparian Improvement Organization
Sacremento River Preservation Trust
San Juan Audubon
San Juan Citizens Alliance
Save the Illinois River
Shark River Cleanup Coalition
Shundahai Network
Sierra Club
Sky Island Alliance
Solar Energy International
Souther Utah Wilderness Alliance
Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Proj.
Spirit of the Sage Council
Superior Wilderness Action Network
Taxpayers for the Animas River
These EXIT Times
Utah Animal Rights Coalition
Utah Environmental Congress
Utah Rivers Council
Wasatch Mountain Club
Western Watershed Partnership
Western Wildlife Conservancy
Wild Angels
Wild Utah Project
Wild Wilderness
Wilderness Watch

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Last Update: October 30, 2007

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