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Colorado River Update: Feds Give Permit To Big New Dam; We Fight Against It!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River! Happy Summer!

Save The Colorado’s Legal Fight Begins Against the Proposed New Dams on the Colorado River!

A couple weeks ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a permit to the first major dam on the Colorado River system in decades. Called the “Windy Gap Firming Project”, the proposal would drain more than 13 billion gallons of water out of the Colorado River every year, pump that water backwards through Grand Lake in Grand County Colorado, pipe it in a tunnel under the continental divide, and then store it in a large reservoir near Loveland Colorado to be sent out to the sprawling suburban lawns north of Denver.

This “Project” would be the first consequential new dam and diversion on the Colorado River system in decades, coming at a time when the river is already severely drained and depleted due to overuse, drought, and climate change. In fact, 70% of the water in the river in Grand County, Colorado, is already drained out, and officials are working to keep Lake Mead, downstream, from further emptying. This project would make all of that worse. The Colorado River is on life-support right now — if the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, we should work to protect and restore the River, not further drain it.

Save The Colorado’s  scientists and attorneys are poring over the Army Corps’ permit for the Project — we will likely challenge this decision in federal district court because the Project is wasteful, unnecessary, and environmentally damaging. Every American river deserves its day in court — the Colorado River, which is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, certainly deserves the best legal defense we can give it.

Big News! As Lake Mead Falls, Nevada Proposes Draining Lake Powell and Destroying Glen Canyon Dam

Last week, the Nevada State Assembly passed a resolution to “Drain Lake Powell and Destroy Glen Canyon Dam”. The purpose of the resolution was to study draining Lake Powell to increase water levels in Lake Mead and thus increase water supply security for Las Vegas and the lower basin states. The resolution was pushed forward by Nevada State Senator, Tick Segerblom, who is an outspoken voice of reason on the Colorado River. Segerblom believes it makes no sense for Lake Mead to be teetering on the brink of draining, and Nevada spending billions of dollars to keep its water supply secure, while Lake Powell is just sitting there providing water to practically no one.

The resolution passed the State Assembly, but did not pass in the Nevada State Senate. Our boardmember and former Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Dan Beard, provided written comment in support of the resolution. Dan Beard is also the author of the book, Deadbeat Dams, which discusses why Glen Canyon Dam should be torn down. While the resolution did not pass this year, it surely points to a likely future where more and more people are seeing the folly of trying to save Lake Powell as drought, overuse, and climate change continue to drain the Colorado River system. Save The Colorado’s board of directors unanimously voted to support draining Lake Powell and tearing Glen Canyon Dam — we intend to move forward with this campaign in the near future. You can watch the TV news story here about the Nevada legislature’s resolution.

Can “Water Markets” Save The Colorado River? 

Over the past few years, “water markets” have been all the rage across the Colorado River basin. It seems like everybody and every group is embracing water markets as the path forward to protect and restore the river. Well, not everyone… Last week, I penned a column in the influential California news site, Water Deeply, titled: “Three Reasons Why Water Markets May Be Damaging the West’s Rivers”. In the column, I argue that at the exact moment in American history when the most intense attack on America’s environmental laws is taking place, a large movement by foundations is pushing a capitalistic approach to protecting rivers using “water markets” instead of focusing on defending and enforcing America’s environmental laws. There has been little to no critical attention by the public or media on this water markets approach. 

I further argue that water markets commodify our rivers making them available only to the highest bidder, have achieved very little actual permanent river protection, and have undercut the diversity of the environmental movement in the American West. Instead of using water markets, I argue that we need to be doubling down on defending and enforcing our environmental laws, and investing more in “rights of nature” and “river rights” approaches.

Over the next few months, there will be plenty of action from Save The Colorado! Stay tuned as we head into the legal fights to stop dams and protect the river. And, make sure you get outside and enjoy the summer on the Colorado River!

Thank you for your support!

Gary Wockner, PhD
Director, Save The Colorado

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