Gov’t Inaction Could Wipe Out A Defining Feature Of The Grand Canyon, Environmentalists Say

Environmentalists say falling water levels upriver from a dam ― along with its inadequate architecture ― could cause the Colorado River, which flows through the Grand Canyon, to “effectively [dry] up,” The Arizona Republic reported.

A report released by the Utah Rivers Council, the Glen Canyon Institute and the Great Water Basin Network is calling on Congress to repair the Glen Canyon Dam.

The dam, which is more than 50 years old, is located along the Colorado River and upriver from the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. and a key source of drinking water in the Southwest.

The Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell, which stands at 3,536 feet above sea level, an amount that’s 46 feet away from hitting the minimum level (3,490 feet) needed to produce hydropower, according to the newspaper. However, if water levels continue to drop at Lake Powell, the dam’s infrastructure won’t allow it to bring water downriver and could reduce river flow “to less than half,” Environment & Energy Publishing said.

The effects of declining water levels could impact water delivery “to irrigate farms and fully supply cities from Phoenix and Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Tijuana,” per The Arizona Republic.

As severe drought grips parts of the western United States, water levels at Lake Powell have dropped to their lowest level since the lake was created by damming the Colorado River in 1963.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

The report detailed the dam’s “antique plumbing,” specifically the pipes below hydropower-generating levels that weren’t “designed to permanently deliver large quantities of water.” The pipes can bring a limited amount of water through the dam and the environmental groups behind the report described “serious questions” about whether they were capable of funneling water long-term.

The groups are calling on the federal government to draft ways to redesign the dam.

“We are once again in a situation where our water leaders’ strategy, their plan to deal with shortages, appears to be crossing their fingers and hoping for snow and rain,” Zach Frankel, the Utah Rivers Council’s executive director, told E&E Publishing. “The time has long since passed to have real meaningful leadership in this aridification megadrought.”

Arizona Water Resources director Tom Buschatzke told The Arizona Republic it would be prudent to investigate changes to the dam’s infrastructure.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency that oversees the dam, has committed $2 million in funding toward finding ways to continue to deliver water and power, an agency spokeswoman said.

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