The Place No One Knew Well Enough
Representative Hansen of Utah called a Congressional hearing on September 23, 1997 to discuss the Sierra Club and Glen Canyon Institute's proposals to drain Lake Powell. In preparation for the hearing, Representative John Shadegg of Arizona asked the Salt River Project for data on the potential economic effects of such a plan on the Navajo Power Project in Page, Arizona. The accompanying Navajo Power Project Fact Sheet was the result.
The Navajo Power Project consists of: The Kayenta Mine, a coal mine operated by Peabody Western Coal Company on the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations near Black Mesa, Arizona; The Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railway, a 76 mile electric railway from Black Mesa to the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona; and The Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a three unit, 2400 megawatt steam power plant located on the Northern border of the Navajo Reservation near Page and Lake Powell, approximately six miles from the Glen Canyon Dam.
NGS draws 34,000 acre-feet per year from Lake Powell's 15 million acre-foot per year in-flow of clean, cold water. The plant recycles water until all that is left is salt cake, returning no discharge to the groundwater or Lake Powell. The plant could not operate as designed without a reliable, silt-free, relatively cool water supply. Draining Lake Powell would undoubtedly result in abandoning the Navajo Power Project.
The Navajo Power Project was constructed to serve power demands across the Southwest, including the pump stations of the Central Arizona Project canal. The Navajo Project is owned by Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power in Arizona, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Nevada Power Company, and US Bureau of Reclamation. NGS was built on the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona to avoid the construction of another dam in the Grand Canyon and to bolster the economy of the Navajo Nation. The plant is managed by Salt River Project.
The Navajo Project employs over 1,000 people full-time, over 85% of whom are Navajo and Hopi Indians. In addition, between 200 and 800 people are employed seasonally each year, 95% of whom are Navajo. The Navajo Nation's unemployment rate is over 40%, so these jobs are critical to the Navajo people. Royalties and other taxes paid by the owners of the Navajo Project contribute more than $22,000,000 per year to the Navajo Nation government, more than 10% of their non-federal revenue. The Hopi Tribe receives over 40% of their non-federal revenue from Navajo Project coal royalties. Including wages, royalties, and county taxes, the Navajo Project contributes more than $100 million per year to the Northern Arizona economy, the vast majority of which directly benefits Native Americans.
The Navajo Generating Station is consistently one of the top ten power producing facilities in the United States each year. NGS is among the 50 lowest cost power plants in the United States according to Electric Light and Power Magazine. NGS generates enough power to supply the homes of 3,000,000 people.
Because NGS is such an efficient, low cost facility, utility customers in the Southwest will pay at least $19,000,000 per year more than they do now if NGS is forced to shut down, provided that investors are willing to finance the $1.5 billion dollar capital cost to replace power currently supplied by the Navajo Project. Replacing NGS's output with existing sources of power rather than new construction would cost ratepayers more than twice that much. It is also very likely that we taxpayers would be held liable to the Navajo Project owners for the recent $470 million investment in sulfur dioxide scrubbers at NGS and an estimated $137 million in decommissioning costs for the Project.
This data describes only a small piece of the total economic impact that would result from draining Lake Powell. When regional tourism and potential drought impacts to California are added to the equation, the cost of this ill-conceived plan becomes mind boggling.
Economics aside, people who have visited Lake Powell know it is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world. Converting it to a 200 mile long mud bog framed by a gigantic white bathtub ring on the formerly beautiful red sandstone cliffs could only be contemplated by someone who has never visited the Lake.
In the late 1950's, the Sierra Club promoted the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell in exchange for the cancellation of a proposed dam at Dinosaur National Monument. The Sierra Club's leaders had never seen Glen Canyon. Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower finally took a look at Glen Canyon after construction on the dam was well under way. He immediately reversed the Club's position on building Glen Canyon Dam and tried to rally public support for his new stand by publishing a photo pictorial book on Glen Canyon entitled "The Place No One Knew".
Today, millions of people in the United States who have never seen Lake Powell could possibly be persuaded to trust the integrity and judgement of the Sierra Club, supporting their recommendation without ever having seen the astounding beauty of present-day Lake Powell or giving any thought to the devastating impact such a plan holds for the frequently drought ridden Southwest and the Navajo Indians who would be impacted by the plan most directly.
A vote for draining Lake Powell is an endorsement of the idea that two wrongs makes a right. The only way the Sierra Club could possibly convince the nation to drain Lake Powell is by appealing to the large majority of people who have never seen the Lake. By studying the facts now and making a well-informed decision, perhaps we can avoid a scenario where ten years hence the Sierra Club has to publish another apology book entitled "The Place No One Knew Well Enough".