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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 regular maintenance. 

Power associated with Lake Powell (Glen Canyon Dam and the Navajo Generating Station) produce
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 pocket books.


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 per year.

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 plants.

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 productive..."

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 "stagnant".

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 Lake Powell.

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 amphitheaters.

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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 Powell combined!

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.

Send Comments to postapuk@canyoncountry.net

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