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Groups Sue Feds Over Management of Glen Canyon Dam

The Glen Canyon Dam towers 710 feet above the original Colorado River channel, producing hydroelectric power and impounding Lake Powell as a water storage reservoir. (Jason/Adobe Stock)
The Glen Canyon Dam towers 710 feet above the original Colorado River channel, producing hydroelectric power and impounding Lake Powell as a water storage reservoir. (Jason/Adobe Stock)
October 4, 2019

PAGE, Ariz. – A trio of conservation groups is suing the federal government to force it to use climate science in its management of Glen Canyon Dam and the upper Colorado River.

In the suit, the groups are asking a federal judge to invalidate a 2016 Bureau of Reclamation environmental study, and order a new analysis using data developed by climate scientists to predict future flows in the upper Colorado River.

Gary Wockner, executive director of the group Save the Colorado, alleges the government used flawed information to develop the plan.

"We followed this process throughout the drought contingency plan over the last few years, and they still have refused to accept the climate science and the impacts that climate change is going to have on the river," says Wokner.

The Glen Canyon Dam is in northern Arizona, just south of the Utah border.

The groups in the suit include Save the Colorado, the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers. They say the 20-year plan doesn't present a full range of alternatives based on climate-related impacts to the river.

The Bureau of Reclamation declined to comment on the suit.

Wockner says conservation groups followed each step as the plan's Environmental Impact Statement was created, to see if the government was following guidelines set out in the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The EIS process has a draft and a final, and a Record of Decision," says Wockner. “And during the draft we said, 'Hey, you're not using climate science.' They said, 'We don't have to.' In the final, we said, 'Hey, you're not using climate science.' They said, 'We don't have to.' In the Record of Decision, they responded once again to our comments and said, 'We don't have to.'"

Wockner says the plan doesn't consider projections that show falling river flows could eventually render the Glen Canyon Dam inoperable.

"The amount of water that's decreased in the river could be dramatic," says Wockner. “And so, the agencies and the states have to take this seriously. Federal law requires that they do, and the federal government failed to comply with that law when they created this measure."

Wockner believes any plan for the dam needs to consider decommissioning it, either by removing the dam or by modifying it to let the river flow through and drain Lake Powell.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ