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Op-Ed: Lake Powell No Longer Needed

Eric Balken makes the case that Lake Powell, anchored in place by the Glen Canyon Dam, is too inefficient a reservoir during times of water scarcity. Lake Mead, he says, is more than up to the task.
December 11, 2015, 7am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Wolfgang Staudt

Water scarcity in the Colorado River Basin has prompted questions about Lake Powell, which loses up to 390,000 acre-feet of water yearly to seepage. "Nearly everyone agrees that conservation is needed basin-wide, but storing water in Lake Powell, the most wasteful reservoir in the system, isn't about saving water. Upper Basin officials fear that if Lake Powell shrinks too much, the reduced hydropower generation will drastically hike electric rates."

Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1966, stops up the Colorado River and is the only reason Lake Powell exists. It is a key source of hydroelectric power, but it also enraged a generation of environmentalists by inundating an entire riverine ecosystem.

Balken advocates letting the waters of Lake Powell through the dam to collect in a single reservoir, Lake Mead. "This would mean Glen Canyon would transition from a reservoir destination to a world-class rafting and hiking destination. With low reservoir levels over the past decade, hundreds of miles of river and side canyons have already begun to be restored to their natural beauty." On the flip side, gas-fired plants may have to compensate for the dam's reduced generating capacity.

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Published on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in High Country News
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