Skip to content

PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Dept. of Interior Admits Glen Canyon Dam Produces Dirty Energy Due To Methane Emissions

For Immediate Release
October 11, 2016
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado, 970-218-8310

U.S. Dept. of Interior Admits Glen Canyon Dam Produces Dirty Energy Due To Methane Emissions

New science estimates greenhouse gas emissions from Glen Canyon Dam are equal to 193 million cars on the road/year or burning 976 billion pounds of coal/year.
Hoover Dam is over 4 times worse and as bad as coal.

Colorado River, USA: Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Interior (Interior) released its long-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for its Long-term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP) for Glen Canyon Dam. Responding to comments that Save The Colorado put into the Draft EIS, Interior admits that Glen Canyon Dam produces dirty energy in the form of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from methane.

Section 1.6 in Appendix Q, page Q-14, of the FEIS is titled, “Methane Emissions From Lake Powell That Contribute To Climate Change” and states:

“Reservoirs such as Lake Powell would be expected to produce some amount of GHG emissions consistent with levels reported for reservoirs in the semiarid Western U.S.”

“For the first time in history, the Dept. of Interior admits that Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell produce greenhouse gases that cause climate change,” said Gary Wockner, Director of Save The Colorado. “However, the FEIS underestimates these emissions by referring to a 12-year old study, and thus fails to use the best available science to account for these emissions.”

Just four weeks ago, on Sept 16, 20016, a peer-reviewed article was published in the journal PLOS: ONE by Swiss scientists that includes an estimate of methane emissions from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. Titled, “Hydropower’s Biogenic Carbon Footprint,” the article estimates greenhouse gas emissions to be “228.833 kg of CO2e/MWH” – or (stated in words) “228.833 kilograms of ‘Carbon Dioxide Equivalents’ per Megawatt Hour” – due to the release of methane at Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell (see “S1 Table” line 307 for “Glen Canyon Dam” column “AO”).

The “S1 Table” is used to produce “Figure 2” (below*) in the PLOS: ONE article, which estimates the carbon footprint of various electricity sources, including those for over 1,473 dams around the world, and including the hydropower facilities at both Glen Canyon and Hoover dams.


Given that Glen Canyon Dam produces an average of 4,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year, that multiples to over 915 billion kilograms of CO2e. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s online GHG calculator, the yearly emissions from Glen Canyon Dam equal approximately the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 193 million cars on the road per year or the burning of 976 billion pounds of coal per year.

Further, the CO2e estimate at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead is over 4 times higher, at 1,079 kg of CO2e/MWH, and its GHGs are also dramatically higher due to the even greater amount of electricity Hoover Dam produces (see “S1 Table” line 106 for “Hoover Dam” column “AO”). The study estimates the greenhouse gas emissions from Hoover Dam to be as bad as the worst coal-fired powerplants.

These estimates stand in stark contrast to recent presentations, writings, and statements made by representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), which manages both dams, and the Dept. of Interior. In February of 2016, the spokesperson for Reclamation made a presentation to the “Law of The River” conference in Las Vegas and said that Glen Canyon Dam hydropower is a “clean carbon-free resource” and the “single largest source of renewable emissions-free electricity in the U.S.” (page 273). The spokesperson has been stating this incorrect information for years, including at the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) meeting in 2013 (page 13).  And, just 4 weeks ago, Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, wrote in a blog on Interior’s webpage, “However, for every Hoover Dam that continues to provide benefits like water supply or clean energy…”, words that she also used a recent CRWUA conferences.

Over the past few weeks, new studies have been published indicating that methane and GHG emissions from hydropower are a significant global problem, including last week’s study led by scientists at Washington State University and funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Science Foundation. That study, titled, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Reservoir Water Surfaces: A New Global Synthesis,” was widely reported in the international media (see WSU press report here, the full study here, and Washington Post story here.)

Given the new science of methane emissions from dams, reservoirs, and hydropower – and especially the new study in PLOS: ONE – Save The Colorado makes the following recommendations:

  1. The U.S. Govt. – including Interior, Reclamation, Western Area Power Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, Dept. of Energy, etc., – must stop telling the public and media that hydropower is clean and carbon free.
  2. Due to the significant implications of the PLOS: ONE article, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should review the article and include it in new analyses of methane emissions from hydropower and the implications for climate change.
  3. A team of scientist from the U.S. Govt. should undertake actual methane emissions measurements (rather than estimates) at both Hoover and Glen Canyon dams as soon as possible.
  4. The U.S. Govt. must propose technologies and solutions – including stopping new proposed dams and removing old dams – that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) requirement to “avoid, minimize or mitigate” environmental impacts, and complies with the Obama Administration’s 2016 “Final Guidance on Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change.”
  5. The Glen Canyon Dam LTEMP FEIS is not accurate and must be redone.

“Hoover and Glen Canyon hydropower dams have caused irrevocable damage to the Colorado River and have been replicated as models to dam, drain, and destroy rivers across the planet,” said Gary Wockner. “With hundreds of new dams under construction around the world, and with thousands more planned – all under the guise of “clean and carbon-free energy” – we are now learning that these dams are making climate change worse, and perhaps cataclysmically so. Scientists, governments, and activists must take strong steps to avoid, minimize, and mitigate these climate change emissions including stopping new dams and removing old ones.”

“We’re not advocating tearing down Hoover Dam, but this science is another of the many factors indicating that Glen Canyon Dam should be considered for removal,” said Wockner.

[*Note: Save The Colorado communicated with the article’s author to interpret the results and confirm the emissions from Glen Canyon and Hoover dams in Figure 2. The article does not advocate for stopping or removing dams; that advocacy is the position of Save The Colorado.]


Back To Top