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LR in the News
July 26, 2005

Draining Lake Powell not an option, federal water officials say

By KEN RITTER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) - Decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam and draining Lake Powell is not an option for managing the Colorado River during years of drought, federal officials said Tuesday.

"Our direction from Congress has been, 'Don't study that,'" Terry Fulp, Bureau of Reclamation Lower Colorado area manager, said of a proposal by a Moab, Utah-based environmental advocacy group.

Millions of gallons of water lost to evaporation could be saved by removing the dam in Page, Ariz., the Living Rivers group said in a report outlined for bureau officials.

Water managers took public testimony Tuesday as part of Interior Secretary Gale Norton's command to establish rules to limit interstate squabbles while managing the river during shortages.

A 1922 agreement allocating Colorado River water does not specify how it should be shared during drought. Norton in May rejected a request by four states in the river's upper basin - Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico - to reduce releases of water from drought-depleted Lake Powell to more quickly refill the reservoir.

The decision was seen as a victory for California, Nevada and Arizona - three lower basin states that rely on allocations from the downstream Lake Mead reservoir. But Norton made it clear she wanted the states to find a way to share the water without federal involvement.

"This boils down to how we deal with droughts in the future," said Ken Albright, an official with the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority who said he was speaking for the seven Colorado River basin states. "We'll do it, or they'll do it for us."

"Today we have no answers," Fulp said. "We're only trying to get questions and comments about where we're headed."

Another session is scheduled Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The information-gathering process may lead to one or more environmental studies before yielding a December 2007 report, Fulp said.

Nine people spoke Tuesday at the Henderson Convention Center. Some acknowledged the rapid growth of cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Phoenix was increasing pressure to rewrite river allocation rules drawn up decades ago to serve agricultural needs. Mexico also has a stake in Colorado River flow south of the border.

"You're basically going to be in permanent drought," said Michael Jackson, a lawyer representing a farm family in California's Imperial Valley. "There's not going to be water to fill those reservoirs because of demand."

David Weisheit and David Haskell, Living Rivers officials, said they accelerated the release of a report calling for the decommissioning of the Glen Canyon Dam to coincide with the Bureau of Reclamation review.

They contended that lakes Powell and Mead, the largest of the more than 40 reservoirs in the Colorado River basin, lose 1.3 million acre-feet of water a year to evaporation - or about 10 percent of the annual river flow. An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, enough to serve one or two households for one year.

Haskell said capturing water at upstream reservoirs or letting it seep into the ground to recharge underground aquifers would be more efficient.

Rapid silt buildup also could render the Glen Canyon Dam ineffective faster than builders projected, they said.

The dam, which they said contributes to ecological damage in the Grand Canyon downstream, was completed in 1963. Lake Powell, when full, covers 266 square miles, mostly in Utah.

"Somebody's got to be looking out for the future," Haskell said.

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On the Net: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: http://www.usbr.gov

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