One dam solution

We may not need Hayduke to blow up Glen Canyon Dam after all – it appears irrigators in California are coming around to the idea of draining Lake Powell to help alleviate the strain and stress on the over-allocated and diminishing Colorado River.

In a Sept. 5 report in the Los Angeles Times, some of the most influential farmers in the California Imperial Valley are urging the federal government to decommission Lake Powell and have that water stored downstream in Lake Mead.

“Past proposals by environmental groups to decommission Glen Canyon Dam or to operate the reservoir without power production as a primary goal can no longer be ignored and must be seriously considered,” the farmers wrote to the Bureau of Reclamation.

For decades, some environmentalists have called for the draining of Lake Powell as a way to restore river health in the Colorado as it flows through the Grand Canyon. And of course, in 1975, Edward Abbey published “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” in which ecologically minded misfits target their arch nemesis, Glen Canyon Dam.

Climate change-fueled aridification of the West gripping the region is only compounded by the fact that available water in the Colorado is extremely over-allocated. The situation is made even more dire as stakeholders eye a 2026 deadline for new water management rules.

So, the fact California’s top farmers are jumping on board the dewatering Powell train is kind of a big deal.

For farmers, having more water stored downstream in Lake Mead would function as a sort of insurance policy in low-water years. Farmers also argue the original 1922 Colorado River Compact prioritizes agriculture use over hydroelectricity. Also of note, about 500,000 - 600,000 acre-feet of water evaporates from both Lake Powell and Lake Mead a year. Why not just cut one of those reservoirs out of the equation?

“I think (farmers) see the writing on the wall,” Kyle Roerink, director of the Great Basin Water Network, one of the environmental groups calling for the draining of Powell, told the Los Angeles Times. “Farmers understand the future probably better than many right now. And they know issues of scarcity are only going to become more incendiary.”

But don’t start planning your Glen Canyon rafting trips just yet. Where this all goes is anyone’s guess as stakeholders continue to find a long-term solution.

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