The Perfect Socioeconomic Engine
Researched and written by: Larry E. Tarp, Past President Friends of Lake Powell, Inc.
I would like to tell you about "The Perfect Socioeconomic Engine" and about its vast variety of social, human, environmental and economic values. This engine has 1,240,000 horsepower. A lot you say! Yes it is very powerful, but yet it is gentle, non-polluting, silent, comes with a 500-year warranty and as you will see it's socioeconomics will blow you away.
So you all ask, where is it? What is it? How can it possibly be? Lastly you say, what do you do with it? Well, let me tell you a little about it!
First, where is it? It is located approximately 15 miles upstream on The Colorado River from Lees Ferry, in Coconino County, Arizona; it is just south of the border between Arizona and Utah. So what is it? It is the Glen Canyon Dam, along with the Glen Canyon power plant and its fuel source, the magnificent Lake Powell. Its dam is 710 feet high from the base to its crest, it is 300 feet thick at the base and tapers to 35 feet thick at its top. It is capable of holding more water than all the other storage lakes of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) combined. It holds nearly as much water in storage as Lake Mead, behind Hoover dam and it neatly houses that 1,240,000 horsepower engine in its belly, out of sight, out of mind, but running silently 24 hours a day. This dam and power plant first began operation a little more than 33 years ago in 1964, but so much of that for now.
Let's switch gears and talk a little about the valuable exhaust from this "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine." Many types of bad, harmful, dirty, and smelly engine exhaust emissions have been in the news. For years, as scientists have worked to clean up such air pollution. However, this engines' exhaust is totally pollution free, crystal clear, a constant temperature and after providing social, human and economic values downstream, it eventually becomes the lifeblood of tens of millions of people in Arizona, Nevada and California, but more about that later.
At the point where the exhaust leaves the engine, it then begins a safe and sane journey down the Colorado River. This flow is just the right amount to assure that both the three Lower Basin states and the four Upper Basin states in the seven state Colorado River compact agreement are guaranteed a constant supply of water.
Because it is perfectly clear, clean, and cool, it is home to some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the world. Fishermen and women come to this part of the Colorado River just below Glen Canyon Dam from all over the world to experience the thrills of trying to catch these magnificent fish. I'll bet most of you do not know that this specialty activity alone brings over $5 million a year into the Southwestern U.S. economy. Just because of "The Perfect Socioeconomic Engine's" clean and constant exhaust.
The original wild Colorado flows through this area were laden with silt and mud during the raging flood stage in spring, and then the river was reduced down to just a trickle in winter. This engine's exhaust flow also provides the calming effect necessary to allow 35,000 people every year the opportunity for tranquil float trips. For the more brave hearted, 22,000 people white water raft further down the mighty Colorado, and through its rapids but still without fear of loss of life and limb. The exhaust continues its journey down through the Grand Canyon where it is the sustenance for all kinds of plants, animals, fish, insects and birds. Finally, more than 180 miles from its beginning journey the "perfect socioeconomic engines" exhaust reaches its first stopover. It has reached beautiful Lake Mead, which is contained behind Hoover dam and begins to settle down for its next lot in life.
In its next life it begins to be thought of as providing pure, fresh, clean, and constant water to over 22 million people and 3.5 million acres of agricultural land in Arizona, Nevada, California and for our friends south of the border in Mexico. These irrigated lands produce $1.5 billion dollars worth of crops and employ countless thousands of people each year. These waters then flow across once barren lands via diversions such as the California Aqueduct, the Central Arizona Project, the All-American Canal, and the Mexican irrigation projects. It is at this point we must all reflect back to earlier times and remember that without the Glen Canyon Dam and its "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine" and the exhaust control of those waters stored in Lake Powell, none of this currently assured water supply could possibly be guaranteed.
You will have no doubt noticed that I have not thrown out many dollar figures, projections or potential economic losses. The reason being is there is no information, at least in my portfolio, to show what the negative economic impact would be if the cotton fields of Arizona, the citrus orchards along the lower Colorado, the alfalfa in Nevada, or the fruits and grains of California received no water during the drought periods that would interrupt the currently constant supplies. This potential is highly probable based on historical water flows, were it not for the large storage capacity of Lake Powell and the flow controlling effect of the Glen Canyon Dam.
I also do not have a clue as to the disastrous social, human and economic impacts were there to be no water or water rationing in places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, (just to mention a few of the cities and towns in which over 22 million live and rely on the renewable water source from the Colorado River Storage Project). So in this world of constant concern and conversation about "exhaust", be it from cars, manufacturing plants or other pollution sources, here is one exhaust system that does only good and positive things for all of nature in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, too. So now, let's quickly run back up that "exhaust pipe" the 180 or so miles to Glen Canyon Dam and continue our exploration of one of its other "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine" products. But, I would like to make a quick stop at mid-stream to tell you about the recent studies conducted in this part of the river.
It was determined that the endangered and non-native fish species remaining in this part of the Colorado River are now protected from predator fish further down stream, mostly our friend the striped bass, that would otherwise have them for dinner. Why, because the water released by the dam is too cool for the striped bass, so they stay down stream in the warmer waters of Lake Mead. If you were to drain Lake Powell and let the warmer Colorado River waters flow through, again, we could all say goodbye to these important elements of our ecosystem.
The ecosystems both above and below the dam are different than they were before the dam, but those now in place around the area are healthy and happy. Without the lake, dam, and clear waters running into the Colorado River, all the existing species would become endangered. So much for that.
Remember the 1,240,000 horsepower I was talking about in my opening earlier, one might wonder what you would do with that much horsepower. O.K. the answer is quite simple. You connect the engine to 8 huge general electric power generators that each can produce a minimum of 157,000 kilowatts of power, providing a total output capacity of 1,288,000 kilowatts. Now you say, what do you do with that much power? Again the answer is very simple, you sell it to power companies in Arizona, Nevada and California and they provide electricity to over 400,000 households and businesses every hour of every day, throughout the years. The revenues collected for this renewable energy is upwards of $90 million per year. The negative economic impact of loosing this power capacity is again beyond my scope of understanding. If lost, it would simply have to be replaced by another power source, most likely one using a fossil fuel, atomic energy, or some other non renewable heat source, and most likely we would expect it to produce some levels of "bad exhaust". You should know that the proponents of draining Lake Powell (the Sierra Club, Glen Canyon Institute and perhaps others) simply address this loss of clean, renewable power issue by saying "we" could easily lose this much power generation capability and simply make it up by "everyone" conserving a little to offset the loss. Unfortunately they fail to define the "we" and the "everyone", and you know that if we asked half of their 600,000+ members to pull the electric meters off the incoming electric lines on the side of their homes every other day, as a good will jester and a conservation action to offset the loss of the Glen Canyon power plant, what their reaction would be. But so much for that, back to reality.
Please continue to remember that the Glen Canyon Dam power plant electric generation is renewable, quiet, consistent, pollution free and still has about 500 years left on its warranty. So you can begin to see why I call it, the "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine"!
Before we leave the dam and venture up into its beautiful blue fuel source, we must remember that the dam employs 65 people, mostly Native Americans and they bring dollars into the economy each year, while still raising their families in their home lands.
Now the fuel! Lake Powell! How many books have been written about its beauty? How many movies have been made here because of the spectacular scenery surrounding the lake? How many millions of rolls of film have been exposed by its millions of visitors each year, trying to capture its size and beauty. I do not really even want to guess, but, there are some facts that I can tell you, in both human and economic terms. Nearly 3,000,000 million visitors a year come to see this lake and its surrounding beauty. The lake makes it possible for 325,000 people a year to see our National Monument "Rainbow Bridge". With Lake Powell in place access is a short boat ride away. Before the Lake it required a two day hike, or a days ride on pack animal. In fact, before the lake, fewer than 15,000 people had ever seen this magnificent wonder. Over 400,000 boat launches are made annually on Lake Powell. Nearly a thousand houseboats are navigated in its calm waters, bringing the opportunity for true "family bonding" that so many families wait the entire year for. The lake is home to some of the best bass fishing in the western United States. Records are set each year as these sport fish thrive in the lakes deep and clear waters. Water skiing, personal water crafting, kayaking, camping, sun bathing, photography, and just plain doing nothing are but a few of the activities these visitors enjoy each year. From an economic standpoint, these visitors spend nearly $500 million a year in our Southwest. Hundreds of thousands of these vacationers come from around the world, having heard about beautiful blue waters of Lake Powell, the Glen Canyon Dam and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Did you know that, as vast as Lake Powell is, it only occupies 13 percent of the 1,236,800 acres of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area? This recreation area is larger than the state of Delaware.
Aside from the incalculable human values that Lake Powell provides to the millions of users, there is another little know fact about the use of the lake's waters. It involves a consortium of owners including the United States government, that own and operate the Navajo Generating Station, just south of the lake, that generates more electricity than Hoover dam's power plant. Wow, you say. Glen Canyon power plant supplies electricity to over 400,000 households, what would you do with more electricity. Again the answer is very simple, only this time it is much bigger. Would you believe this oasis in the desert, using available water from Lake Powell to make steam, generates enough electricity to supply over 500,000 families of 4 each year. The value in retail dollars of this electric generation amounts to about $1 billion a year. So in total, nearly 1,000,000 families depend on the power from the waters of Lake Powell. Together, Glen Canyon power plant and the Navajo Generating Station pump more than $1.1 billion a year into the economy of the desert Southwest. As a side note, hundreds of Native Americans are employed at the Navajo Generating Station, and at the Peabody Coal mine (which provides the fuel for the power plant). This again allows them the opportunity to live in their native lands and enjoy the lifestyle afforded by high paying jobs in the desert.
The assessed valuation of properties in Page alone is more than $370 million. More than 300 businesses depend on this "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine" for their livelihood. The revenues that change hands as a result of the tourism and vacationing trades help support the essential services such as hospitals, schools, and airports for both the city folk and the Native Americans as well. Without this support base, for example, the nearest medical service would be more than a 130 miles away. All of this would collapse without the lake, dam, recreation area, power generation and water storage of this great area.
The "Perfect Socioeconomic Engine" is the life blood of the millions of people of the Southwest, the Native Americans, the hundreds of business that exist because of the area, the 750 different types of plants, all the animals, the dozens of fish species, and the more than 275 species of birds that currently reside here.
Even the United States Congress in recent congressional subcommittee hearings on this subject in Washington D. C. told the lake draining proponents there was not even a hint of support coming from them. They only ridiculed them for bringing such a proposal before them saying, that to turn back the water rights, humanitarian, and economic hands of time by draining this magnificent lake is paramount to removing the statue of liberty from Ellis Island, wiping the faces off Mount Rushmore or taking down the Golden Gate Bridge to reduce air pollution. We must all remember that in ways you cannot even imagine, the Colorado River system, including Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, are tied to the socioeconomics of the entire southwest.