25 Reasons to Keep Lake Powell

25 Good Reasons
Not To Drain Lake Powell

Propaganda vs. Reality

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Propaganda pieces by drain it environmental groups would have you believe that  Bruce Babbitt wanted to remove Glen Canyon Dam.

           And then here's the truth....

Official statement of Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior - Clinton Administration

"I want to say publicly, for the record, that the idea of decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam and draining Lake Powell is outside the Circle of Reality."

                 Bruce Babbitt, July 14, 2000

These groups would also have you believe that Native Americans want to see Lake Powell drained and here's the truth on that....

Official statement of the Navajo Nation....

"The Sierra Club's proposal does not address all of the complexities of water administration under the upper compact and lower compact states.  It also does not address the adverse impacts on Navajo water rights, Navajo economic development concerns, or Navajo social welfare."

                Melvin F. Bautista, Executive Director of the Division of
                Natural Resources of the Navajo Nation, Congressional Testimony

Official statement of the Hopi Nation....

"The Hopi Tribe does not believe that removing Glen Canyon Dam and attempting to restore the rivercourse is a viable or realistic option."

               2001 Arizona Legislative Concurrent Memorial (SCM-1002) signed by the Governor of
               Arizona and sent to President George Bush


Environmental groups want you to believe we can get along just fine without Lake Powell.

Official statement of the Southern Nevada Water Authority

"Were it not for the storage Lake Powell provides, Lake Mead's water level would likely be precariously low, threatening both Southern Nevada's drinking water intakes and impairing the ability of Hoover Dam to generate hydroelectric power."

            J.C. Davis spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority

Here are 25 Good Reasons
Not To Drain Lake Powell

1.  Lake Mead would not be able to handle prolonged and severe droughts. 

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Lake Mead During a 1950's Drought
(Cline Library Archive)

Droughts are a regular part of our western climate but the 2000-2004 drought is especially noteworthy.  The amount of Colorado River snowmelt was but a trickle for five consecutive years.  It was so bad that the runoff in the spring in 2002 failed to raise the level of Lake Powell even a single foot for the first time in the lake's history. .  

The drought of 2000-2004 produced an average virgin Colorado River flow of just 9.9 maf significantly below the historical average of 14.8 MAF going back to 1896 (Source: Upper Colorado River Commission 2004 annual report).   In contrast, the drought of the Dust Bowl years between 1930 and 1937 produced an average of 12.0 MAF.

The current drought has been quite a shock to the water storage system but none-the-less this drought provides us an interesting opportunity to perform a reality check on the notion to drain Lake Powell.

Back in 2000, when both Lake Mead and Lake Powell were essentially full the Drain-It groups were trying to scare the public with fears of dam failure.  The logic trail went like this:  Global warming was increasing the frequency of El Nino conditions and the potential for flooding which would put the full dam at risk. Their recommendation was to drain to Lake Powell since the increasing rainfall was more than enough to satisfy the water needs of the West and Glen Canyon Dam was unsafe. 

The Friends of Lake Powell, on the other hand, taking note of climatologists' warnings that changes were occurring in the Pacific Ocean began an educational effort to alert the public about the risk of drought cycles and possibility of returning to a drier climate regime similar to the one observed in the 1950's.   

In just 5 short years the two keystone reservoirs of Powell and Mead lost over one-half of their water storage capacity (a low of 24.9 million acre-ft compared to a capacity of 50.5 acre-ft). Quicker that you can say...."We don't need Lake Powell"...we' went from boom to bust...such is the fickle nature of the Colorado River.

The good news was that the Colorado River infrastructure held up to the task of providing water through the drought. The water storage system is functioning as designed and Lake Powell played a crucial role in maintaining normal water deliveries.

The reality is this.  Draining Lake Powell is risky business!


Without Lake Powell

Reservoir Live Storage
Capacity (maf)
Deficit (maf)
Water credit due to evaporation  savings Re-calculated
Live Storage
% full
Lake Mead 26.16 - 27.0

+ 2.3

(5 years x 0.5 maf ) - 0.2

1.5 6%

Without Lake Powell. Lake Mead would have drained down to just 1.5 maf of live storage.

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Let's take it a step further.  The Drain-It groups will tell you that 50 years ago (before Lake Powell) the Colorado River states got along fine with just Lake Mead.  What they don't tell you is that back then the Upper Basin states and Arizona weren't using much of their water allocations.  The population base was much smaller and the Upper Basin's Colorado River Storage Project had not yet been authorized.

Today, the world is much different on many accounts.  The western population base has exploded, basin withdrawals have increased, and there is less water in the Colorado River due to a warming climate that has also recently turned drier.  Now more than ever, the western states rely on water held in storage reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Having said that, it's a pure myth that Lake Mead breezed through the 1950's drought.  The lake was subject to wild year to year fluctuations. In 1956, for example, the level of Lake Mead dropped to 130 feet below full pool (some 57 feet lower than it was in 2004!).   

The need for two large reservoirs on the Colorado River is abundantly clear and even that may not be enough to weather the various whims of Mother Nature.  The U.S.G.S. in the modeling run shown below ( "Coping with Severe Sustained Drought in the Southwest"), indicates that a sufficiently long and severe drought could drain Lake Powell. 

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If you take Lake Powell out of the water storage equation above and you can imagine what would happen to Lake Mead.  The risk factor of draining Lake Mead skyrockets.  This isn't conjecture any more.  We don't need complex modeling exercises to see the reality of this situation. The 2000-2004 drought has provided us a new reality and a new severe drought scenario. We no longer need to simulate a lot of fancy "what if" climate calculations. You don't have to be a water resource specialist to realize that two storage reservoirs provide better drought protection that one reservoir. . 

It's the Glen Canyon Institute's religion to Drain Lake Powell. They cheer the ongoing drought....they cheer each foot drop in Lake Powell and each job loss. 


The Glen Canyon Institute's Executive Director likes to boast "Enjoy Lake Powell while you still can" but perhaps the more politically correct statement should be...


"Enjoy Lake Mead while you still can (...if you decide to drain Lake Powell)."


2.  Say "Good Bye" to the Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery at Lee's Ferry!

Trout thrive in the tailwaters of western dams like Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge Dams.  Prior to the dams the Colorado River was too muddy to support a sport fishery.  Drain Lake Powell and there goes the Lees Ferry blue ribbon trout fishery. 

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Aquatic food base – Prior to the construction of the dam, the sediment-laden waters of the Colorado River continually scoured river bottom habitats and permitted little light penetration, both of which strongly limited the growth of algae and other aquatic plants. The sediment-laden water prevented significant development of aquatic plants and as such, energy inputs into the system were dominated by allochthonous sources such as driftwood and terrestrial leaf litter (Kennedy and Gloss, 2005). This low productivity likely contributed to low species diversity, but the harsh conditions fostered the development of a significant endemic fish fauna

Following completion of Glen Canyon Dam, water discharged downstream was cold and clear which allowed for the development of a substantial food base dominated primarily by algae and aquatic plants, thus changing the dominant energy inputs from external sources to instream production. The plentiful algae in the post-dam Colorado River support a high density of invertebrates (Kennedy and Gloss - 2005 Aquatic Ecology: the role of organic matter and invertebrates, U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1282. 220 pages, pp. 87–101).

An overall sediment trend for the Grand Canyon has been the coarsening of the substrate in the river channel, as fines are eroded, leaving gravel and larger material. The impact of this “coarsening” of the river substrate has two profound biological implications:

1) First is the creation of preferred habitat for benthic invertebrates, an important component of the food base.

2) Second is the creation of spawning substrate for the non-native rainbow trout.

3. The bald eagle population at Nankoweap - Get rid of them!

Ditto the group of Bald Eagles that winter over each year near Nankoweap Creek in Marble Canyon and feed on spawning trout. Eagles didn't live there before the dam and the Drain-It folks say...."Good riddance. What do you think this place is.... a zoo?".

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Excerpts from Riper and Sogge USGS/FRESC Colorado Plateau Field Station

Bald Eagle Abundance and Relationships to prey base and human activity along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Bald Eagles utilize the main Colorado River corridor and tributaries where rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri) are spawning. One such tributary is Nankoweap Creek, where Bald Eagles have concentrated since the early-1980s (Brown et al. 1989, Leibfried and Montgomery 1993).

In some years, the Colorado River corridor of Grand Canyon National Park hosts one of the largest concentrations of wintering Bald Eagles in Arizona, and indeed the entire Southwest (Brown et al. 1989). From November through March, eagles forage along the Colorado River primarily from Glen Canyon Dam (River Mile [RM] -15.5) to the confluence of the Little Colorado River (RM 61.5). During the winter of 1991, up to 23 eagles were counted within this river stretch (Brown and Stevens 1992).

The clear and cold river flows that resulted from the operation of Glen Canyon Dam provided ideal conditions for trout growth and survival. Although trout were not introduced directly into Nankoweap Creek, limited spawning was noted in the winter of 1977-78 (Carothers and Minckley 1981). By the mid-1980s, as many as 1,500 trout were present in the lower 1.5 km of Nankoweap Creek during peak of spawn (Leibfried and Montgomery 1993). Large numbers of trout in the shallow, clear, and slow waters of Nankoweap Creek provide foraging opportunities for Bald Eagles, which exploit abundant, easily available prey (Stalmaster 1987).

4.  We would effectively trade the riparian habitat found today through the Grand Canyon corridor (which provides an important life zone for birds and terrestrial animals) for a relatively sterile scour zone environment.

Funny that the Glen Canyon Institute doesn't show you before and after pictures of the Grand Canyon river corridor.  It's a rather stark Grand Canyon river corridor reality that doesn't fit in with their pre-dam Paradise Propaganda.

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The Grand Canyon River Corridor Today

If we were to drain Lake Powell, beaver populations which have increased since Glen Canyon Dam would be reduced.   Southwest willow flycatchers would be displaced.  The Peregrine Falcon populations would be reduced.   There are also many other animals that currently use this new riparian habitat as a wildlife refuge and they would lose their homes.

The following image and excerpts are from the book "Grand Canyon - A Century of Change" by Robert H. Webb

"Clover and Jotter (1938)...were the first scientists to systematically record observations on the flora of the river corridor. The photographs of Franklin Nims and Robert Brewster Stanton well document the conditions seen by Clover and Jotter; showing a stark river corridor largely devoid of trees and riparian plants...most of this zone was devoid of plants because they could not survive the scouring and inundations by periodic floods."

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The Grand Canyon River Corridor 100 years ago

"The river corridor that Stanton saw and photographed was desolate in comparison to the verdant channel banks for today. Operation of Glen Canyon Dam has increased the amount of riparian habitat in Grand Canyon. The channel banks are now biologically productive..." However, since closure of the Glen Canyon Dam this habitat "is now occupied by thickets of Tamarisk, Coyote Willow, Gooding Willow, Cottonwood, Arrowweed and other native shrubs. This new high water zone - where the number of breeding birds is five to ten times greater than before - is a critical resource of the river corridor in Grand Canyon."

"Moreover, the new high-water zone is one of the few major riparian areas in the southwestern United States that has had an increase in vegetation this century. What in 1890 was barren sand is now critical wildlife habitat. The density of nesting birds in some well-developed patches of vegetation in the high-water zone was comparable to the highest densities ever reported for non-colonial birds in North America"
(Carothers, 1974).

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Want more?  Here's a quote from noted Grand Canyon ecologist, Dr. Larry Stevens:

"There is a much stronger ecological link between the aquatic and terrestrial environment here now than existed in pre-dam time.  To make matters a little more complicated, several rare and endangered species have come to rely on post-dam resources.  The southwest willow flycatcher lives preferentially in tamarisk in the Grand Canyon.   Wintering bald eagles feed preferentially on non-native trout.  Peregrine falcons, which are also at the top of the food chain here are feeding on waterfowl, swallows and swifts which feed in turn on insects that rise up from the river.  All these are post-dam phenomena.  To me it's a wonderfully complicated and biologically rich food chain and regionally very significant." (emphasis added)

As writer Tom Bol puts it (May 2004 Frontier Magazine)

"Bighorn sheep casually graze in dense tamarisk at river's edge, a raven slowly circles in the azure sky.   Relaxing on a sandy beach I feel completely alone. Overhead, a delicate cliff swallows continue with their acrobatic flight, building into a frenzy as a recent hatch of insects hover over the river.  And as always, the mighty Colorado continues its downstream push, peacefully swaying some willow bushes on the bank.  I feel in complete harmony with the river.   Moments like these transcend time, whether now or in Powell's time."

5. The City of Page would lose their water rights with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Actually, it's the Upper Basin states that take the real hit on water allocations if Lake Powell is drained.  Lake Powell exists so that the Upper Basin states can develop their water resources at various upstream locations. 

6.  The Navajo Generating Station would shut down and the Navajo Indian Reservation would suffer a huge loss of revenues.

You can read more about the economic impact of draining Lake Powell here:

Navajo Nation Impact

7. The Northern Arizona economy would lose jobs and $400 million dollars of recreation dollars and recreational opportunities would be very limited  compared to today.

Millions of people each year visit the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and this visitation currently drives a vibrant economy where none existed prior to construction of the dam.  Some folks have suggested that Page doesn't need Lake Powell and we could prosper in a new "river rafting" economy.

This suggested economic model isn't very realistic.  Page would be left out of that loop since a limited number of river runner parties would put in at upstream locations hundreds of miles from Page and they would float right on past Page without spending a dime in Page.  Contrast that to the millions of visitors who come to enjoy Lake Powell each year.      

We suppose the Page residents could line up along the nearby cliffs and yell down to the rafters floating some 700 feet and plead with them to "toss up their wallets" to help stimulate the Page economy.

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Glen Canyon today - Three (3) miles south of downtown Page

Perhaps the environmentalists would allow the construction of new roads and Visitor Centers and other tourist amenities for a restored Glen Canyon?   Yeah right.  And if Aerosmith were here they would sing you a little song of "Dream On, Dream On, Dream On". 

8. Unemployment on the Navajo Reservation already at 50% would increase substantially.

Take away Lake Powell and all its water-based tourism, take away the Navajo Generation Station shrink down the City of Page, and the Page Unified School District, etc. and then stand back and watch the social and economic bomb impact the Navajo Nation.  This kind of job loss is the last thing the Navajo Nation needs when the employment rate is already at an unacceptable level. 

Want to make things worse?  Force the existing Navajo labor pool to leave the reservation in search of work in the big cities.  It's an effective way to break up families.  Have the older generation elders stay on the reservation and reduce the work force so that the younger generation has to move off the reservation to far away urban center areas where job opportunities exist.  Nice touch. 

Today, the waters of Lake Powell represent liquid gold and economic opportunity for the Navajo Nation.  The local jobs associated with Lake Powell mean that families can stay together and keep  their cultural ties intact.  Young children are provided a good education through the Page Unified School District and Coconino Community College and close contact can be maintained with family members living on the reservation.  Lake Powell creates an effective WIN-WIN.   Draining Lake Powell creates economic chaos that would create substantial social issues.

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9. Coconino County would lose millions of dollars in revenues.

10. It would not restore ocean running Colorado River Squawfish (pikeminnow).

The Colorado pikeminnow historically was abundant in the lower basin and the Colorado River Delta where backwater habitat and prey were available.  Spawning pikeminnow used to migrate hundreds of miles, which is probably why they were called "salmon" by early settlers.  Lake Mead and the other downstream diversion dams have cutoff the pikeminnow from making these migratory runs to and from the sea.  Removing Lake Powell isn't the fix-it-all-cure for native fish.

There are other dams above and below Lake Powell and exotic sport fish introduced from other ecosystems (Striped Bass, Carp, Catfish, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Northern Pike, etc.) and elsewhere are in the river system that most effectively out compete the few native fish that aren't directly consumed.   Can you say, "What's for Lunch?"

11. The remaining native fish populations could be threatened by non-native predatory fish moving up from Lake Mead.

Even with cold water, Striped Bass can now be found moving upstream from Lake Mead up past Lava Falls and points upstream.  Warming the water will only increase the upstream range of these predatory fish and should Striped Bass ever reach the Little Colorado River where Humpback Chub now breed....it would be "Hasta La Vista Baby!"

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Another Humpback Chub Succumbs to Predation

To quote Matthew Andersen, native aquatic species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources:

"Nonnative fish have been identified as one of the factors limiting recovery of the native fish of the Colorado River Basin, including the Green River in Utah.  Many researchers have identified nonnative fish as a threat to natives because they prey on native species, especially young natives.   The nonnative fish also compete with the natives for food.  Because the native fish did not evolve in a system that included these predators, they don't have the natural defense mechanisms needed to help them survive."

12. Warm water diseases could spread through the remaining fishery.

Whirling disease and other types of parasites spread even more easily in warm water ecosystems.

13. The drained Lake (especially the open bays) could be a huge eyesore. Restoration costs could range from hundreds of millions to over a billion dollars.

Taxpayers like you...would pay these costs.

14. The wind could whip up huge dust storms of fine silt left behind in the open bays.

Restoration in the open bays would proceed much differently than in the river corridor.  The fine sediments (once desiccated) could become an air quality problem such as what is observed with Owens Lake today which is classified as an EPA non-attainment area for particulate pollution.

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Wahweap Bay, Lake Powell


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Owens Lake, California

15. The federal government would lose $70 to $90 million dollars each year in lost power revenues.

These revenues are important to the Upper Basin in repaying the cost of upstream irrigation and water storage infrastructure.   The low cost energy produced by the Glen Canyon Dam as part of Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) goes largely to rural electric co-ops, small municipalities, Native American reservations, and government facilities.

16.  CO2 emissions would increase and efforts to meet the Kyoto Treaty on global warming would be hampered.

In any given year, the hydroelectric energy produce by the Glen Canyon Dam precludes the release of over 10 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.  Multiply this by 40 years and you're talking about 400,000,000,000 (400 billion pounds of CO2).

17. The reliability of the western Grid would be compromised.

Hydropower is unique in its ability to provide load following and restoring the power grid when fossil fuel units trip off line.

18. Property prices in Page would plummet ...a large number of people would lose their homes and their jobs.

See reasons #6 and #7 above.

19. Would you actually get the chance to raft down Glen Canyon? 

Can you say "Lottery"?    Access would be severely restricted with new regulations.  Long waiting lists to raft Glen Canyon exceeding 30 or more years would develop.

Visitation at popular places like Music Temple Chamber would be a zoo.  Because two rivers (the San Juan and the Colorado) feed into the heart of Glen Canyon...crowd control and people densities would be twice the problem of the Grand Canyon.   You would have to share your religious experience with lots of other people.  You might be able to go there once in your lifetime.

20. The river running season through the Grand Canyon would be dramatically reduced.

Winter low flows and spring high flows would reduce the number of months the river could be safely run.  Keep in mind that prior to construction of Glen Canyon Dam the unregulated river flow determined the period when boating was practicable.  In some years only "2 to 2 1/2 months with sufficient water for comfortable and reliable boating" based on historic Grand Canyon ranger reports.

21. River running fatalities through the Grand Canyon would occur at low and high flows.  Lawsuits would be filed against rafting companies.

Three river running fatalities were reported during the high releases years of 1983 and 1984 when as much as 93,000 cfs was released from Lake Powell.  Prior to Lake Powell, the Colorado would typically flood at 125,000 cfs and then slow to a trickle during the winter month (1,000 - 2,000 cfs).  

22. No good way to keep drinks cold on raft trips.

With the looming specter of global warming...need we say more?

23. River hygiene would worsen; as would the ability to find clean drinking water.  Visitor impact on springs and side canyon streams would increase (with more people bathing and otherwise searching out clean water sources for drinking water and personal hygiene).

Keep in mind that up until 1949, only 100 people had ever rafted the muddy Colorado.

24. The Virgin River could dry up as the population of St. George continues to explode and more and more water gets pumped out of the Virgin River basin.

Washington County Growth By Decade


1960 10,271  4.4%
1970   13,669    33.1%
1980 26,065  90.7%
1990         48,560         86.3%
2000 90,354 86.1%
2010 138,115 52.9%
Just of matter of time Half a million 30-50%

When construction started on Glen Canyon Dam the population of California was about 18 million, Arizona had 1.3 million and Nevada had a meager population of just 285,000!

Today 39 million people live in the 3 Lower Basin States and in another 25 years the population is likely to surge past 60 million!  And that doesn't include population growth in the Upper Basin.  But Hey, Don't Worry...Be Happy.   And if you live in the Upper Basin, that's just tough luck because without Lake Powell you
won't be able to develop any more of your water allocations.

25. The Navajo Nation would lose a future supply of water.

"The Sierra Club's proposal does not address all of the complexities of water administration under the upper compact and lower compact states.  It also does not address the adverse impacts on Navajo water rights, Navajo economic development concerns, or Navajo social welfare."
                Melvin F. Bautista, Executive Director of the Division of
                Natural Resources of the Navajo Nation, Congressional Testimony

BONUS REASON:  Unintended consequences often have a way of rearing their ugly head.   What would it be this time?  Some new issue associated with the large volume release of anaerobic organic sediment down through the Grand Canyon? 

Perhaps now you have a better understanding why someone like Bruce Babbitt, an astute Water Law Attorney and a former Secretary of the Interior who served in the Clinton administration would express his support for Lake Powell:

"I want to say publicly, for the record, that the idea of decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam and draining Lake Powell is outside the Circle of Reality"
                       Bruce Babbitt, July 14, 2000


Friend of Lake Powell
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