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PRESS RELEASE: Coalition Urges Bureau of Reclamation to “Modify” Glen Canyon Dam

For Immediate Release
5/16/2024
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado, 970-218-8310

Coalition Urges Bureau of Reclamation to “Modify” Glen Canyon Dam

New revelations of plumbing problems in dam highlight the urgent need for modernization to ensure water supply for 40 million people

After disturbing new revelations of damage to Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlet works during an experiment conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation, a coalition of environmental groups are calling for immediate action to ensure the continued water delivery to 1 in 8 Americans. A letter to the Bureau from eight groups across the Colorado River Basin urges that the agency consider modification of Glen Canyon Dam in current planning efforts regarding the coming decades of Colorado River operations.

“Low reservoir levels are the new normal. If Glen Canyon Dam is unable to safely conduct environmental flows at those elevations, then the future of the Grand Canyon ecosystem is in great jeopardy.” said Eric Balken, the executive director of Glen Canyon Institute.

The seven states on the Colorado River are negotiating future water cuts as part of the Post-2026 Colorado River EIS, a process that will recommend which states will take water cuts in the future. Overconsumption of water and climate change have caused the river’s two main reservoirs to drop to one third of capacity, despite a record water year in 2023. Last year, Lake Powell dropped within 30 feet of the level at which the now-damaged river outlet works would be the only way for the dam to release water downstream.

“Modifying Glen Canyon Dam to ensure water can bypass the dam at river level is our only way forward for the rest of the 21st century” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “Anything else is climate change denial which requires 40 million people to pay the price with emergency water cuts” said Frankel.

If Glen Canyon Dam were bypassed by opening up its original diversion tunnels or by constructing new tunnels,  it could be safely operated at all levels. The concept of modifying the dam was once deemed radical, but in letters to the Bureau of Reclamation, it has recently been floated by Lower Basin states and farmers.

“The failures of the dam need to be assessed in the long-term planning and environmental review that’s being led by Reclamation and the seven basin states,” said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network. “If it isn’t a part of the 2026 discussion and more, we are missing an important opportunity for public dialogue about the dam’s antique plumbing.”

The damage to the dam’s plumbing system occurred from conducting 2023 environmental flows for the Grand Canyon. The Bureau also used the environmental flow delivery as an experiment to test how low reservoir operations might affect the plumbing system inside the dam. Under mandates of the Grand Canyon Protection Act, High Flow Experimental floods (HFEs) are conducted at the dam to stir up sediment and build beaches in the Grand Canyon. Reclamation is also considering “spike” or “cool mix” flows to stop the spread of invasive smallmouth bass in the Grand Canyon that threaten the population of the threatened humpback chub. But with clear evidence the dam can’t handle these floods at low reservoir levels, the ability to conduct such flows is now highly uncertain.

“The need to consider an overhaul of Glen Canyon Dam is becoming more obvious every year. The dam was not built for this century. It was never designed to operate with so little water.” said Balken.

Even if the lower outlet works functioned perfectly, they are very limited in how much water they can release to downstream users. Now that they can only be operated at limited capacity due to the cavitation that has occurred, and may have to be routinely shut off for repairs, the water delivery problem at the dam is far worse than previously thought.

“For too long, the Bureau has ignored the problems at Glen Canyon Dam.” said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network. “We need to prepare for a future with less water in the river. The health of its ecosystems, and the millions of people who depend on it hang in the balance.”

“The Bureau itself created a Dam modification plan back in February of 2023,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “That plan, and more, must be included in the post-2026 EIS as an alternative for the public to consider.”

The letter submitted to to the Bureau of Reclamation was signed by Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Rivers Council, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Save the Colorado, National Parks Conservation Association, Citizens for Biological Diversity, and Wild Earth Guardians.

For more Information also call

801-631-2774 Eric Balken; 702-324-9662 Kyle Roerink; 801-699-1856 Zach Frankel

 

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