Glen Canyon Dam
Backstory and Context
The United States Bureau of Reclamation engineers and geologists were looking for a site to build the Dam and Page, Arizona was the perfect place. On April 11, 1956, The Colorado River Storage Project Act was authorized by Congress which led to the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. The engineers and geologists could not begin construction until a temporary dam site was built. The water flowed through diversion tunnels that were dug out on each side of Glen Canyon. The construction started on October 15, 1956 when the explosion signal was pressed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Bureau of Reclamation was the government entity that completed the Dam in 1963. The Dam cut off the water of the Colorado River which formed the second-largest reservoir in the United States, Lake Powell. Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell have destroyed the Glen and Grand Canyon’s ecosystem because of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
The Colorado River Storage Project Act was created to control and utilize the Colorado River flow for the States of the Upper and Lower Basins. The Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact controlled the floods and the hydroelectric power. One important problem is that the 1922 Colorado River Compact overestimated the river flow, underestimated the future demand for water, and did not forecast climate change. There is a shortage in the Colorado River water system of approximately 1 million acre-feet a year and because of that it has been predicted that Lake Powell and Lake Mead, in Western Arizona, will never fill to capacity again. This is a problem because each year the Upper Basin needs to give 8.23 million acre-feet of the Colorado River’s water to the Lower Basin area and Mexico.
When the Bureau of Reclamation decided that this dam was going to be used to produce power, they did not realize what it would end up affecting. The change in water flow has caused the Colorado River below the dam to fluctuate in the water elevation. Since there was a fluctuation it affects the recreation, aquatic resources, and riparian resources. The United States Bureau of Reclamation authorized the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (GCES) because there was no information about what the Dam was going to do to our environment. After the GCES, it became clear that the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead was being affected because of the Glen Canyon Dam. The studies expressed that there needed to be more control of the flow of water but also still have maximum power. There was an environmental impact statement that said modified low fluctuating flows was preferred and it was implemented in order to improve the ecosystem of the Colorado River.
Over the years, the change of the ecosystem and environment of Glen Canyon Dam has taken a toll on our society. The water level in 1999 was much higher and the watercolor was clear and dark blue. Now, the river has a green-brown shade and the water level is much lower. Since the temperature has been rising, the river will only worsen over time because hot weather means more electricity, which means more water is needed. When the temperature is hotter, additional evaporation occurs which declines the excess of water. Evaporation causes our ecosystem to endanger the animals and insects living in and around the river. There are many species that rely on the Colorado River water in order to survive. The reproduction of insects and animals is disrupted because when the river lowers, they are left to die which affects the food supply for terrestrial animals. A steady flow would help to improve the ecosystem and increase the number of insects and animals.
The Glen Canyon Dam was created in order to get water and electricity to those in the west. What has been learned is that some people did not expect problems to evolve because of it. Many people believe that the Dam should be destroyed but it is a historical site for those who live in the west. Those in the area travel to Lake Powell during the summer and bring their boats and water-crafts or rent houseboats, so much of the population would be upset if Lake Powell ceased to exist. Also, those who live in Page, Arizona would lose the city’s livelihood because the Dam has created numerous employment opportunities. For those people who do not live in the west or have a different meaning of the area, they see the dam as an unimportant factor that is hurting our society. What people need to understand is that if Glen Canyon Dam was destroyed, then tremendous flooding would occur, which would be extremely destructive. Today many groups, such as GCES, are working on the ecosystem and environmental factors of the Dam, trying to correctly fix all issues by not destroying Glen Canyon Dam.
Best, Allen. “The Future of the Dammed.” American Planning Association, www.planning.org/planning/2018/nov/futureofthedammed/.
Bureau of Reclamation. “Upper Colorado Region.” Glen Canyon Dam | Upper Colorado Region | Bureau of Reclamation, www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/gc/.
Council (U.S.). Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, National Research, and National Research Council (U.S.). Water Science and Technology Board. Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies. River Resource Management in the Grand Canyon. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press, 1996.
“Glen Canyon Institute Dedicated to the Restoration of Glen Canyon and a Free Flowing Colorado River.” Why Glen Canyon – Glen Canyon Institute, www.glencanyon.org/why-glen-canyon/.
Harpman, David A. “Assessing the Short-Run Economic Cost of Environmental Constraints on Hydropower Operations at Glen Canyon Dam.” Vol. 75, no. 3, 1999, pp. 390–401. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/3147185. Accessed 21 Oct. 2019.
Kelsey, Robin. “Norman Rockwell's ‘Glen Canyon Dam.’” Vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, pp. 414–422., www.jstor.org.www2.lib.ku.edu/stable/24690429. Accessed 21 Oct. 2019.
Melis, Theodore S., et al. “Surprise and Opportunity for Learning in Grand Canyon the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program.” Ecology and Society, vol. 20, no. 3, 2015, doi:10.5751/ES-07621-200322.
Pitzer, Gary. “Can Steadier Releases from Glen Canyon Dam Make Colorado River 'Buggy' Enough for Fish and Wildlife?” Water Education Foundation, 7 Sept. 2018, www.watereducation.org/western-water/can-steadier-releases-glen-canyon-dam-make-colorado-river-buggy-enough-fish-and.
Stantiski-Martin, Diane, et al. “Climate at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon.” Focus on Geography, vol. 45, no. 3, 1999, pp. 1–8., doi:10.1111/j.1949-8535.1999.tb00113.x.
United States, Bureau of Reclamation. Operation of Glen Canyon Dam: Colorado River Storage Project, Arizona: Final Environmental Impact Statement. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, 1995.
Wegner, David L. “10/ A Brief History of the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies.” Colorado River Ecology and Dam Management: Proceedings of a Symposium, May 24-25, 1990, Santa Fe, New Mexico, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 226–238.