Exposing Sierra Club and Glen Canyon Institute Myths
Myth #1 - We don't need hydropower because there's a huge glut of power in the West.
The availability of power fluctuates from year to year based on the strength of the
economy and construction of new power plant. Usually there is a 2-3 year lag between
demand and supply. There's always a surplus on paper for power because at any one
time all the plants don't operate at full load and also plants undergo constant and
Power associated with Lake Powell (Glen Canyon Dam and the Navajo Generating Station)
about 22,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. This is enough power to serve
the entire residential population of
Arizona (5 million people). The cost to replace this power with new gas turbines
would exceed $2 billion dollars and
then you would pay the high cost of natural gas to run these plants. Where would
these plants get built? In your backyard?
Try to replace this power with alternative forms of energy like wind, solar and fuel cells
and you are talking about spending
anywhere from $30 billion to $100 billion dollars. Drain Lake Powell and drain your
Myth #2 - Hydro-electric Power is easily replaceable
While it might be currently fashionable to bash hydro-electric power, here are some
facts to consider:
1. Hydro-electricity does not produce by-products that contribute to acid rain
aerosols, global warming and/or nuclear disposal problems.
Consider this...two pounds of CO2 are produced for every kilowatt-hour of power produced
by the burning of fossil fuels. During 1996 alone , The hydro-electric power from
the Glen Canyon Dam saved some 11,581,702,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
The life-of-the-dam savings is now over 320,000,000,000 (320 billion!) pounds of
CO2 and continues to grow each year.
2. It is an important part of our nation's energy portfolio and is an important part
of our nation's effort to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. It is in our
nation's best interest to invest in a mix of energy types. Power from the Glen
Canyon Dam in 1996 saved the equivalent of 3 million tons of coal. Life of the dam
coal savings now have exceeded 63 million tons of coal.
3. Lake Powell-related electrical generation is important to the Western Power
Grid. Power from the Glen Canyon dam and the Navajo Generating Station total over
3,000 MW and the energy produced is enough to serve 5 million people! Replacing
these megawatts with modern gas fired turbines would cost 2 billion dollars in capital
costs and an extra unknown amount in costly natural gas which currently costs over $4.00
per million BTU.
There have been several large scale outages in the Western U.S. during the last two
decades. Glen Canyon dam has played a key role in getting the "Western Grid"
back on line during each of these outages because of it's hydro-electric nature. A hydro
unit can provide power in a matter of minutes, where a large coal fired unit can take
hours or days to get back to full load and requires a significant amount of power from an
off site source (preferably a hydro power generator).
4. All forms of power come with some form of environmental cost. Think
again if you believe that solar or wind power is answer to our energy needs and
environmental concerns. Not withstanding the huge capital costs associated with this
type of generation, there are also environmental concerns that the Sierra Club has already
protested. Solar panels consume space and desert habitat. The panels are ugly
and not desirable in many areas of the desert Southwest which unfortunately is where the
sun shines the most and you need a way to store the solar energy produced during the day.
Batteries and other storage devices all extort their toll on the environment.
Wind generation also has its "evils". The Sierra Club has called them
"quisinarts in the air" due to the high numbers of raptors that are killed each
year by spinning blades as they hunt for small game around the structures. In
addition, wind generating turbines are ugly, generate noise and consume habitat
acreage. If we were to try and replace the power produced by Lake Powell with wind
generators we would need 7,000 square miles of 20' towers. In other words, we need a
swath of land 60 miles wide that stretched all the way from Page to Flagstaff. And
(get this) these towers would only produce power about 20% of the time due to the wind
climatology for this area. Wind and solar power have an important role to play but
their niche is not the wholesale replacement of existing power facilities.
Myth #3 - Evaporation from Lake Powell is unacceptably high and wasteful
Compared to the amount of water that Lake Powell stores (27 million acre-ft), the
evaporation rate is pretty low (about 3%). This is due to the narrow, deep configuration
of the lake and its cool, high altitude. Like a home mortgage interest rate (a necessary
evil!)....you wish it could be zero but a 3% loss is really cheap insurance. Lake Mead
(broader and hotter) loses much more to evaporation and don't forget that before Lake
Powell, the Colorado River along Glen Canyon had an evaporation rate of 227,000 acre-ft
Water evaporates everywhere....from the free flowing Colorado River, the other downriver
lakes, canals, swimming pools and don't forget the tremendous amounts of water lost
through vegetative transpiration. Forty-five years ago (1952, Robinson) estimated that
existing stands of tamarisk in the West, lost 20-25 million acre-ft of water each year and
this did not include transpiration by cottonwood trees, willows and other water-loving
Myth #4 - 100 year old forests of Cottonwoods and Willows have been lost in the Grand
Canyon downstream of the Glen Canyon Dam.
This myth is similar to the Seven Cities of Cibola. The harsh reality is that
there were no lush riparian forest through the Grand Canyon. Ravaging floods
produced a rather sterile biological corridor through the rocky corridor of the Grand
Canyon. There were no great stands of riparian vegetation. There were some
acacia and mesquite that managed to survive above the high flood zone but somehow this has
been confused with the Cottonwood/Willow stands that did exist historically in the desert
flatlands of the Lower Colorado River up from the Yuma area.
To quote Robert H. Webb in his book Grand Canyon - A Century of Change...."The
river corridor that Stanton saw and photographed was desolate in comparison to the verdant
channel banks for today. Operation of the Glen Canyon Dam has increased the amount of
riparian habitat in Grand Canyon. The channel banks are now biologically
For more historical information refer tohttp:///www.lakepowell.net/century1.html
Myth #5 - Lake Powell does not provide water for drinking or other uses and sits
Oops!!! I guess they forgot about the City of Page and the Navajo Generating Station who
both rely solely on the water drawn from Lake Powell.
Page is a growing community with great pride and was recently named the "3rd Best
Small Town in America". The Navajo Generation Stations has a net 2,2500,000
kilowatt-hour generation capacity.
The waters of Lake Powell are "vibrant" with economic life. Visitor-use days are
higher than almost any other National Park in the West (even exceeding the Grand Canyon).
Lake Powell is a thousand things to millions of people but it may mean the most to
families. There is probably more "family quality time"
produced at Lake Powell than at any other Lake in the world.
In comparison, river running could only accommodate about 20,000 people annually and there
would be 5 year waiting list just to go on a trip. Staying on a "waiting list"
is not free anymore either. It will likely cost you $50 per year or more to wait in line
for a chance to "float" the river. The economics associated with river running
are pretty close to zero when compared to the existing economy "flowing" from
Myth #6 - Glen Canyon is dead...drowned by Lake Powell.
Not True!! Lake Powell covers just 13% of the Glen Canyon Recreational Area. There are
still many deep canyons where streams cascade over slickrock benches, alcoves and through
Visit the Glen Canyon Now! Photo Gallery
Lake Powell did cover some nice areas but let's be honest...it opened up nearly 1 million
acres of canyon-desert, slickrock and other features to explore. Hikers can exhaust a full
lifetime exploring the canyons and slickrock expanses surrounding Lake Powell.
Myth #7 - Nature is "good", man is "bad".
When nature creates a lake, "it is good"....when man creates a lake..."it
is bad". This is pure fallacy! The Colorado River has been damned repeatedly by lava
flows in the Grand Canyon and yet the Sierra Club doesn't cry about that!
Edward Weeks has suggested that we paint the dam lava-black in color and make it look
lumpy. Hmmm...maybe he is on to something!
It is a fact that the present Lake Powell is not the first and won't be the last lake in
this region. A twenty-seven year study completed by researchers at Brigham Young
University (Hamblin, 1994) concluded that the Colorado River has a natural cycle of
dam/lake/river in the recent geologic past. Researchers documented at least 150 lava flow
events into the Grand Canyon over the past 1,000,000 years. Many of the lakes that formed
were big. One was at least 2000' deep and held back more water than Lake Mead and Lake
Did you know that the Havasupai Indians in Havasu Canyon have farmed self-sufficiently for
hundreds of years on a protected piece of rich, lake sediment deposited by a
"natural" Lake Powell? And isn't it ironic....that the gravel aggregate bed
found at Wahweap (used to make concrete for the Glen Canyon dam) is also a sedimentary
remnant of an old Lake Powell. Now, that is what I call recycling!! The sediments of one
lake becomes the dam for another lake.
Ask yourself this....If Lake Powell were "natural" and some mining company
wanted to "drain the lake" to extract uranium deposits in Wahweap Bay....which
side do you think the Sierra Club would be on? Why of course....they would be fighting
like mad to "Save Lake Powell".
Myth #8- Lakes destroy and are bad
Lakes just might "create" more than they destroy. Perhaps, there is a natural
reason why beavers create dams. It is true fact that lakes create PRODUCTIVE habitat,
control floods and provide a more even distribution of river flow. In Lake Powell's case,
it also provides tremendous recreational opportunities and has allowed a great family
community like Page to grow and prosper!
Read about the loss of a man-made lake here.
Perhaps it is that our "best choice" lies with a balance of rivers and
lakes, a good diversity and a wide variety of productive habitat.
Background music: Pink Floyds's "Brain Damage"
The lunatic is in the hall....
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon...
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
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