Glen Canyon Conservancy and the Page Public Library recently hosted a presentation by US Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) employees on September 20, as part of the Conservancy’s Speaker Series.
Gus Levy, who is the ‘new guy’ in charge of Dam operations and Becky Bryant, Bureau regional Public Information Officer, spoke to the audience. They shared a slide show entitled “Colorado River Basin” illustrating the history, current status and future plans for operations at the Dam.
In 1922, the Colorado River Compact, an agreement between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin states, determined the amount of water each state was to receive from the Colorado River. The amount of water identified in the agreement was based on, according to Bryant, thirty years of river flow data that turned out to be one of the wettest thirty years on record at the time. The Compact was agreed upon based on more water than actually existed in the river over a hundred years ago. Forty million people rely on the water from the Colorado River. More than five million acres are irrigated. Hydropower in the Colorado River reservoir system, at full capacity, generates 4,200 megawatts of electrical power.
With the drought in its 23rd year, and temperatures over the last century increasing, the amount of rain and snow that provides the bulk of the water to the Colorado River from the west side of the Rockies and the San Juan Mountains has decreased, making the hundred-year-old miscalculation even worse. As a result, the shortfall between the water allocated to the states and what is actually available is greater today than before the dam was built. By the end of 2022 the Bureau expects both Lake Mead and Lake Powell to be at 25 percent of capacity. In the winter of 2021/2022, the inflow was the second lowest since 1964. This year’s monsoon storms have helped, but the bulk of the water comes from snowpack.
Glen Canyon Dam produces 75 percent of the Upper Basin’s energy. Lower lake levels reduce energy production because there isn’t as much force from the water acting on the turbines. Since 2000, power production has decreased as much as 43 percent.
In the 2022 Drought Response Action, the Bureau reduced the flow down the river from 7.48 million-acre feet per year (maf) to 7.0 maf. From May 2022 to April 2023, Lake Powell will receive 0.5 maf from Flaming Gorge in Utah and Wyoming. In 2021, Lake Powell received 0.161 maf from Flaming Gorge.
On a cross section of Glen Canyon Dam, shown at the lecture, the bottom of the water tunnels for power generation are at 3,490 feet above mean sea level (ft), the lowest elevation at which power can be generated. “Dead Pool”, the bottom of the intake for the ‘jet tubes’, is 3,370 ft. When the lake is at full capacity, the water level is at 3,700 ft. Levy talked about the water supply for the city of Page. According to Levy, currently, City of Page water supply comes from the inside face of the dam at elevation 3,488 ft, about two feet below the lowest intake for the turbines. According to https://lakepowell.water-data. com/, Lake Powell’s elevation is 3,529.35 ft on September 20.
The Bureau has already purchased pipe, valves and other materials that will be used to provide a second source of water to the city from the “jet tube” outlet works. Access to connect the two outlets would not be underwater, but actually in a valve pit located just outside of the downstream face of the dam. Work on the modifications is expected to start in about a month.
One of the members of the audience told the speakers that back in 2004, the City of Page was contacted by the Bureau of Reclamation and was told that the Bureau was no longer interested in being involved in the municipal water supply business and Page would have to install a ‘second straw’ somewhere else. Since 2007, the city has worked on the project. Levy responded by saying that he hadn’t heard of that and that he knows of no plans to insist that Page come up with its own water supply from the lake.
Another member of the audience asked about the condition of the pipe bringing water from the lake to the city. The original pipe is around 65 years old, and some are concerned about failure of that pipeline. Levy said that pipes fail regularly and it’s not difficult to replace them. According to Brian Carey, Page City Councilor, the current water demand for the City of Page is 2,358-acre feet per year. (An acre-foot of water is defined as 43,560 cubic feet or an acre of land covered with one foot of water). Another way of visualizing an acre foot of water is just less than the playing field in football (minus the end zones), with one foot of water on it. For now, there is no funding to repair the existing water intake pipe or build a second ‘straw’.
Asking about what will happen to the river if the lake drops to ‘dead pool’, Levy and Bryant said that the river wouldn’t run dry and there would still be water flowing down the Grand Canyon, though not likely to be the usual 7,000 to 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of the past.
According to Levy and Bryant, a portion of the water is exported out of the river basin to metro areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City. The rest of the water, around 70 percent of the total, is used for agriculture. The remaining water is used by the basin states.
A September 16 article on knau.org reports that U.S. Representative O’Halleran is very concerned about alfalfa and other water intensive crops being grown in Arizona using groundwater, with no limits on its use. In a press release, O’Halleran states, “It is unfathomable to me that, during a 1,200-year drought, the Arizona State Land Department is allowing a Saudi Arabian company to grow one of the most water intensive crops year-round on state land, straining aquifers and using the state’s limited groundwater.”
According to an Arizona Daily Sun article from April 2022, “In his recent state of the state address, Gov. Doug Ducey proposed a historic, billion-dollar investment into the creation of a new state agency - the Arizona Water Authority - that would pursue a wide array of water security projects to obtain new sources of water for the state, including the construction of a multi-billion dollar desalination plant in Mexico.” The proposal does not address rural water conservation and the unlimited withdrawal of groundwater from Arizona in unregulated areas. The solution to Arizona’s problems cannot merely be ‘drill baby drill’ and pump more water from the ground. Conservation and not merely ‘obtaining new sources of water’ must be part of the solution. Perhaps it is time for people to learn to live in the desert and not try to transform it into a midwestern state.
In early 2023, the Bureau will develop a formal process to develop the ‘post 2026 plan’. According to the Bureau, the goal is an approach involving “robust public involvement”. Information about the plan can be found at https://www.usbr.gov/ColoradoRiverBasin/Post2026Ops.html.
As the lecture concluded, Levy reminded the audience that “There’s a good team doing good work”, and that the Bureau “wants to be a good partner and do everything we can.”
More information about the Glen Canyon Conservancy, including the lecture series, can be found at https://www. canyonconservancy.org/