An alternate approach to the Colorado River problem

The Glen Canyon Dam will likely be rendered high and dry if nothing is done.
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 5:07 PM MDT
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PAGE, Ariz. (KKCO) - If you’ve lived anywhere in the western US, chances are you used power generated by hydroelectric dams along the Colorado River.

Hydropower accounts for more than 22 percent of all electricity generated in the western region, but the ongoing drought will shut down the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell unless action is taken to save it.

Even after an above-average season of snowfall, the water levels at Lake Powell are only expected to rise about six percent. A drop in the bucket against the driest period in over a thousand years.

Water levels have dropped so low that turbines in the dam could soon be left high and dry, rendering them useless. The Bureau of Reclamation proposed digging new tunnels around the dam to restore the flow of the river, then moving the turbines down to ground level.

Gary Wockner, a member of the non-profit group Save the Colorado, says the plan would effectively bypass the dam and keep the reservoir permanently low and unable to fill.

“It makes no sense to manage the entire Colorado River system to generate electricity because you can generate electricity in all sorts of other ways,” said Wockner. His organization supports a different approach.

“So we actually think they should decommission the dam and tear it down rather than trying to drill massive holes in it using this sort of Hail Mary approach to keep the turbines spinning to create hydropower.”

Wockner said there will never again be enough water in the Colorado River system to support two dams. The idea is that if the Glen Canyon Dam is eliminated, it could prop up Lake Mead at the cost of draining Lake Powell.

He says that would allow the water levels behind the Hoover dam to build while also bringing dramatic improvements to the overall health of the Colorado River system.

“So there’s a huge opportunity here to right some historic environmental wrongs and perhaps make more logical sense about how we manage the entire river system,” said Wockner.

The Glen Canyon Dam bypass plan is just one of many solutions the Bureau of Reclamation has proposed to save the power plant, but no projects are close to being approved.