Last week, as agency leaders were attending the Colorado River Symposium, the Interior Department announced a series of initiatives to “to improve and protect the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System.” Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, officials have $4 billion to address concerns in the Colorado River Basin and beyond. What the Interior Department plans to do with those funds includes reducing water levels at Glen Canyon Dam, putting emergency drought operations into action for Lake Powell, and focusing on a 2023 plan where reductions are needed next year as well.
Something that particularly caught the advocacy organization group Save The Colorado’s eye was the Interior Department’s plan to analyze whether bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam would help in drought conditions. For founder Gary Wockner, that possibility is a mixed bag. Wockner is supportive of efforts to divert water from the Glen Canyon Dam, but cannot imagine a solution involving the continued use of the Glen Canyon Dam preventing water from flowing through the Grand Canyon to go over well ecologically.
“We strongly encourage the Bureau of Reclamation to not further restrict the flow of water through the Grand Canyon, and instead rapidly accelerate a program and engineering solution to get water through or around Glen Canyon Dam, a dam that has outlived its usefulness and is now dragging the whole Colorado River system down with it,” Wockner said in a statement.
Environmental groups have been sounding the alarm for quite some time about Glen Canyon Dam becoming a liability for the Grand Canyon’s existence, with a recent AZ Central article pointing out that the current mechanisms of the dam, which halts the flow of water at a certain threshold, would spell absolute disaster for one of the country’s premiere natural treasures. That trapped water would also harm residents who rely on the Colorado River for water in Arizona, California, and Nevada.
What is good about the Interior Department’s plans is that the agency is speeding up the research and analysis phase for those bypass tubes as well as addressing aging infrastructure and putting a more concerted effort toward addressing decorative grass that has been more of a water suck than something that enriches the communities relying on the Colorado River system. In a statement announcing the next steps in addressing the brutal drought gripping the southwest, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland called for cooperation in solving this crisis, or at least moving beyond its worst effects:
We must work together to make the tough choices necessary to chart a sustainable future for the Colorado River System on which more than 40 million people depend. As we move forward, we will do so with key guiding principles, including collaboration, equity, and transparency. I am committed to bringing every resource to bear to help manage the drought crisis and provide a sustainable water system for families, businesses and our vast and fragile ecosystems.