This report by Living Rivers calls for decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam as the primary action needed to reduce current and future economic and ecological impacts of dam operations to the Southwest.
The One-Dam Solution is supported by a growing list of national and international non-profit groups.
The analysis reveals that increased water use and decreasing supplies raise questions about the need for both dams, especially in light of their tremendous evaporation losses. The report concludes that it would be more efficient to eliminate Glen Canyon Dam from the system and utilize Hoover Dam and adjacent underground storage to capture the limited amounts of surplus water that may be available in the future.
Key findings of the 24-page The One-Dam Solution include:
More efficient water storage strategies are needed.
When Glen Canyon Dam was built, nearly 2.6 million acre feet (MAF) of surplus water flowed into Lake Powell annually, allowing the reservoir to fill in 17 years. However, increasing demand upstream has nearly eliminated these reserves. Demand has risen 100 percent since the dam was built and is projected to increase another 23 percent by 2020--placing demand well above the rivers' 13.5 MAF average annual flow.
Since 1979 there have been warnings that the Colorado River would fail on the supply-side because 11 percent more water has been allocated than the river can historically provide. Even more problematic is that Department of Energy research forecasts that climate change will cause Colorado River flows to decline 18 percent by 2040.
Precious water is being lost from the system
On average, Lake Powell and Lake Mead lose 1.3 MAF of water annually to evaporation, nearly ten percent of the river's annual flow.
It was not until the Autumn of 2004 that Lake Powell's storage actually factored into the water usage of people downstream. Prior to this time it caused the loss of 36 MAF due evaporation and to seepage into the surrounding sandstone. Underground Storage should be more widely utilized
Depleted groundwater aquifers along the Colorado River represent a storage solution that could eliminate much of the water now being lost. In California and Arizona alone it is estimated that suitable sites containing a total of 41 MAF of storage are available along the system, and potentially another 46 MAF nearby. Aquifer recharge infrastructure in place now have the capacity to recharge 1.4 MAF of Colorado River water annually.
There is one dam too many in the Southwest desert.
Removing Glen Canyon Dam from the system, using Hoover Dam to capture annual flows while expanding groundwater storage could recover 810,000 acre feet annually now being lost to evaporation. This is enough water to support 1.6 million households of four people each.
The Destruction of Grand Canyon Resources must be stopped.
More than $200 million has been spent in failed efforts to halt the demise of Grand Canyon National Parks's river ecosystem due to the impacts of Glen Canyon Dam. Four native fish are now extinct, one is in jeopardy and another is of special concern. Glen Canyon Dam has trapped the sediment necessary to maintain habitat and beaches for wildlife and recreation, as well as the stabilization of archeological sites.
Accumulating Sediment Presents a Serious Looming Problem.
Sediment is a major unresolved problem threatening the long-term operations of both Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams. Ultimately, sediment will have to be removed from one or both of these reservoirs. Removing sediment from Lake Mead rather than Lake Powell is the most feasible and least expensive likely alternative. While original estimates projected that sediment would not effect the safe operations of Glen Canyon Dam for another 60 years, scientists now warn that major problems could occur sooner.
Hydropower and Recreation are Incidental Benefits
Lower reservoir levels have already resulted in reducing Glen Canyon's power production by 40 percent. This loss has been seamlessly absorbed elsewhere in the energy market. The same is true of recreation, which at Lake Powell has dropped 50 percent in the past 15 years. Such uses were deemed "incidental" to water management when these dam were authorized, and should be treated similarly as new management strategies are developed.
Boulder City, NV 89006-1470
Mr. Rick Gold
Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado Region
125 South State Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84318-1147
Dear Mr. Johnson & Mr. Gold,
Living Rivers, Colorado Riverkeeper, and the 144 undersigned organizations submit the following report, The One-Dam Solution, as scoping comments for the development of management strategies for operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, on the Colorado River, under low reservoir conditions.
With current demand for Colorado River water nearly at the river's historical annual flow of 13.5 million-acre feet (MAF) and rising, and government-sponsored scientists anticipating average annual flows to decline 18 percent by 2040, the prospect of ongoing low water conditions for Colorado River reservoirs is a near certainty. The average flow of 60 percent into the system for the past six years is firm evidence of this.
For more than 25-years, government scientists and administrators have warned that shortages would be occurring now. This action is the first to reexamine the flawed operational strategies that have been in place as far back as 1922 when the Colorado River Compact allocated 11 percent more water than the Colorado River has to give.
Reexamining these two reservoirs is critical, as they constitute more than two-thirds of the system's storage capacity, which with declining inflows and increased demand are proving excessive.
Meanwhile, these two reservoirs can cause the loss of upwards of ten percent of the river's average annual flow due to evaporation—valuable water for critical habitats and water users downstream.
Furthermore, the challenges facing the future operations of these reservoirs go beyond water allocation and storage inefficiencies. Sediment entering Lake Powell will eventually compromise Glen Canyon Dam's safety. Despite recent warnings that this could happen sooner than the 40-year-old estimate of 2060, there has been no comprehensive monitoring or analysis conducted to address this inevitable problem.
Lastly, despite more than $200 million already spent, no gains have been made to restore the critical habitat for endangered species in Grand Canyon National Park impacted by Glen Canyon Dam's operations. The mandates of the Grand Canyon Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in particular are being ignored to maintain Lake Powell even though it is proving to be both wasteful and unnecessary for water storage.
It is therefore critical that the Bureau of Reclamation broadly reexamine the operations of these facilities in accordance with preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to address the following:
1) Pursue transfers of Lake Powell and Lake Mead storage to groundwater aquifers.
2) Develop a sustainable sediment management program for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
3) Determine the costs and benefits of decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam to restore natural flows through Glen and Grand Canyons.
4) Identify new water allocation guidelines to reflect the amount of water the Colorado River actually provides, how it should be distributed and what amounts are needed to protect critical habitats in Grand Canyon and elsewhere.
A water management crisis is looming on the Colorado River. The federal government, as Water Master, has the responsibility to help avert this. Most of the issues addressed in the attached report are not new, but continuing to ignore them will only worsen the impacts once the crisis arrives.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments. We look forward to assisting the Bureau of Reclamation in developing this Environmental Impact Statement concerning the protection of water resources from the Colorado River in times of shortage.
John Weisheit Conservation Director, Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper
Attachment: The One-Dam Solution
Submitted July 26, 2005 at Henderson, Nevada
On behalf of the following groups:
A Critical Decision
Alabama Environmental Council
Appalachian Forest Coalition
Audubon Society of Greater Denver
Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Boulder Regional Group
Buckeye Forest Council
Californians for Western Wilderness
California Save Our Streams Council
Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition
Center for Biological Diversity
Citizens of Lee Environmental Action Network
Citizens Progressive Alliance
Coalition for Jobs and the Environment
Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers
Coloradans for Utah Wilderness
Colorado Plateau River Guides
Colorado White Water Association
Coosa River Basin Initiative
Devil's Fork Trail Club
Earth Action Network
Electors Concerned about Animas Water
Endangered Habitats League
Flagstaff Activist Network
Foundation for Global Sustainability
Four Corners School of Outdoor Education
Free the Planet
Friends of Living Oregon Waters
Friends of the Animas River
Friends of Blackwater Canyon
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Eel River
Friends of the Estuary at Morro Bay
Friends of Hurricane Creek
Friends of the Milwaukee River
Friends of the Nanticoke River
Friends of Yosemite Valley
Gifford Pinchot Task Force
Glen Canyon Institute
Goods From The Woods
Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association
Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
Green Party of Utah
Green Party of York County
Hells Canyon Preservation Council
Indiana Forest Alliance
Inland Empire Waterkeeper
International Rivers Network
International Society for Preservations of the Tropical Rainforest
Johnson County Green Party
Jumping Frog Research Institute
Kern Valley River Council
Kettle Range Conservation Group
Lone Tree Council
Los Alamos Study Group
Lower Neuse Riverkeeper
Montana River Action
National Organization for Rivers
National Water Center
New River Foundation
Northwest Rafters Association
Northwoods Wilderness Recovery
Neuse River Foundation
Orange County Coastkeeper
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Outdoor Adventure River Specialists
Outward Bound West
Patrick Environmental Awareness Group
Puerto Rico Coastkeeper
Red Rock Forests
Restore: The North Woods
Ridgeline & Open Space Coalition
River Runners for Wilderness
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
Sacramento River Preservation Trust
Salt Creek Watershed Network
San Diego Coastkeeper
San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper
Santa Monica Baykeeper
Save the Illinois River
Snake River Alliance
South Yuba River Citizens League
Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Spirit of Sage Council
Swan View Coalition
Taking Responsibility for the Earth and Environment
Taxpayers for the Animas River
The Clinch Coalition
The River Project
Upper Coosa Riverkeeper
Upper Neuse Riverkeeper
Virginia Forest Watch
Waterkeepers of Austrailia
Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper
Western Lands Project
Western Watersheds Project
Wetlands Action Netork