Is Glen Canyon Dam Obsolete?

As climate changes in the Rockies and the southwest, Lake Powell is gradually shrinking. The debate over Glen Canyon Dam is on again, and this time environmentalists aren't the only ones against it.
June 23, 2016, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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The former Glen Canyon, flooded to create Lake Powell.
Wolfgang Staudt

The Colorado River has played host to infrastructural drama for almost a century. Now, amidst drought, its formerly vast water supply is shrinking. A debate has reignited "about whether 20th-century solutions can address the challenges of an epochal 21st-century drought, with a growing chorus of prominent former officials saying the plans fly in the face of a new climate reality."

One of the main criticisms is that Lake Powell (and Lake Mead) waste immense quantities of water. Abrahm Lustgarden describes that in what is "perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many [reservoirs] lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground." Phasing out Glen Canyon Dam would save about 179 billion gallons of water a year, enough to supply Los Angeles. 

Moreover, Glen Canyon Dam's venerable hydroelectric capacity is declining as climate change plays havoc with its reservoir's water level. "Since the dam's power sales are relied on to pay for the operations of other smaller dams and reservoirs used for irrigation in the West, as Glen Canyon financially crumbles, so might the system that depends on it."

Lustgarden notes that in 2015 alone, six smaller dams were deconstructed in the western states, with four more on the Klamath River on their way out. But the politics around Glen Canyon and the Colorado River are on another level entirely, and so far there hasn't been any real movement on the issue. 

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Published on Friday, May 27, 2016 in Pacific Standard
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