House blocks Glen Canyon Dam decommissioning studies

Sun Staff Reporter

The Flagstaff-based Glen Canyon Institute, with a mission of decommissioning the Glen Canyon Dam, is reeling from a recent U.S. House of Representatives decision to prohibit funding for any studies related to their purpose.

But Geri Ledbetter, a longtime river guide and executive director of the Institute, says the outlook looks better in the U.S. Senate -- and she's celebrating a growing, albeit reluctant, political focus on decommissioning as an option.

The House's 2002 Interior Appropriations bill was passed with a rider that would prohibit the use of Interior Department funds to study issues related to decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. HR 2217, section 120, "Bars the use of funds appropriated for the Department of the Interior by any Act to study or implement any plan to drain Lake Powell or to reduce its water level below the range required for the operation of the Glen Canyon Dam."

"This rider is clearly an outrageous attempt to circumvent the American public's right to determine the future of the Colorado River," Ledbetter said. "It should not be the policy of our federal government to prevent the pursuit of knowledge. If the people of the United States want the government to study the pros and cons of decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam, why should that be prohibited?"

She argues that decommissioning should be put on the table as researchers explore other ways to mitigate the effects of the dam on native fish and other wildlife.

"They're looking at all sorts of ways to mitigate the effects of Glen Canyon Dam," she said. "A temperature control device has been seriously discussed that would be attached to the dam, and would release warmer water to help endangered native species. When they consider using this huge device, they should consider decommissioning as an alternate." She added another proposal, though less likely, is to build a slurry pipeline to reroute sediment accumulating behind the dam.

"It would be an enormous project," she said. "That project should not be considered without looking at decommissioning the dam."

But Ledbetter said she's encouraged by comments of Congressman James Hansen, R-Utah, who was reported in the Utah County Journal as stating at a recent field hearing, "It won't be long before some well-meaning lawmaker from the East introduces legislation to decommission Glen Canyon Dam." However, she called the rider an attempt to prevent the kinds of research that would lead to such a bill.

It remains to be seen what the Senate will do with the rider.

A conference committee in early September between the Senate and the House could determine whether or not the rider is included in the final version of the appropriations bill.

Anne Minard can be reached at or 556-2253


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