Report: Glen Canyon Dam plumbing problems could cause ‘massi…


The Colorado River flows thru Marble Canyon as noticed from the Historic Navajo Bridge in Coconino County, Ariz., on July 20. A file launched Wednesday suggests declining flows at the Colorado River aren’t best hanging energy technology on the Glen Canyon Dam in peril, however impacting the power to ship water to Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Estimated learn time: 4-5 mins

SALT LAKE CITY — A file launched Wednesday suggests declining flows at the Colorado River aren’t best hanging energy technology on the Glen Canyon Dam in peril, however impacting the power to ship water to Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico, differently referred to as the decrease basin.

Compiled by way of the Utah Rivers Council, the Glen Canyon Institute and the Great Basin Water Network, the file asks Congress to fund primary upkeep to the dam, which the teams say can be not able to successfully pump water will have to the reservoir drop beneath 3,490 toes.

At 3,490 toes, the dam’s talent to generate energy for over 5 million folks shall be kneecapped, falling beneath the hydropower penstocks that funnel water to the generators.

But it’ll additionally drive the Bureau of Reclamation to pump water during the river outlet works, which the file warns are old-fashioned and may just critically restrict deliveries to the decrease basin, the place just about 30 million folks depend at the Colorado River.

“The hydropower penstocks aren’t best producing hydropower, they are additionally the main mechanism with which the higher basin meets its water supply responsibilities to the decrease basin states and Mexico,” mentioned Zach Frankel, govt director of the Utah Rivers Council.

The file comes simply weeks after the Bureau of Reclamation issued probably the most excessive water cuts thus far — states within the basin want to preserve an extra 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water, which is kind of one-third of the Colorado River’s annual drift.

Coincidentally, the file launched Wednesday issues to a 2 million to 4 million acre-foot deficit if the dam’s infrastructure is not up to date.

If water drops to a few,450 toes, the dam can pump 9.09 million acre-feet yearly, nonetheless in a position to ship the kind of 7.5 million acre-feet apportioned to the decrease basin.

But if ranges proceed to fall, there would possibly not be sufficient force to pump water during the retailers.

“Because of the decreasing water force as water ranges drop, there merely isn’t sufficient water above the river outlet works to push 7.5 million acre-feet during the machine,” Frankel mentioned.

According to an research from Utah State University, if the extent falls to a few,440 toes, the dam can pump 8.28 million acre-feet yearly — at 3,430 toes, it will possibly pump 7.41 million acre-feet, which might be a contravention of the Colorado River Compact.

If it falls to a few,400 toes, the Bureau of Reclamation can best ship a meager 3.47 million acre-feet to the decrease basin each and every yr, which is nearly how a lot water southern California on my own is allocated. And at 3,370 toes, the reservoir would achieve deadpool, which means no water would go during the dam. The best water within the river at that time can be from tributaries and runoff beneath Lake Powell.

“If you do not get sufficient water thru Lake Powell, that is an enormous bottleneck,” mentioned Nick Halberg, analysis and coverage analyst for the Utah Rivers Council.

The consequence can be catastrophic, most likely sparking criminal battles between states, destructive ecosystems, inflicting in style financial hurt and straining an already hectic water scenario in northern Mexico.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s personal outlook suggests Lake Powell may just fall slightly below 3,500 toes in March 2023. And in keeping with an research from the Utah Rivers Council, within the coming years the reservoir may just see the ones as soon as unthinkable ranges, the place the dam would now not generate energy and even manner deadpool.

“We wouldn’t have a magic crystal ball, we will’t inform higher than any one else what the following 5 winters are going to carry for the Colorado River Basin,” Halberg mentioned. “… What we will do, then again, is have a look at sessions previously.”


This river is declining so unexpectedly that our infrastructure isn’t able for it. … And so there is a actual urgency to start out finding out choices to control this reservoir at those extraordinarily low ranges.

–Erik Balken, govt director of the Glen Canyon Institute


Using previous tendencies as a fashion — particularly dramatic four-year declines from 2000 to 2004, and a much less dramatic duration from 2017 to 2021 — ranges may just sink beneath the hydropower tunnels between December 2023 and December 2026.

And by way of December 2024 to June 2027, the fashions counsel ranges may just drop to some degree the place the higher basin is not able to ship the allocated water to the decrease basin, violating the Colorado River Compact.

A worst-case state of affairs can be deadpool by way of June 2025.

“This river is declining so unexpectedly that our infrastructure isn’t able for it,” mentioned Erik Balken, govt director of the Glen Canyon Institute. “And so there is a actual urgency to start out finding out choices to control this reservoir at those extraordinarily low ranges.”

The file suggests two answers — one can be to switch the river outlet works, whether or not that implies widening the present tubes, or drilling extra.

A 2nd choice can be to build new bypass tunnels for the Glen Canyon Dam, which might give the machine “complete flexibility,” Balken mentioned.

“Glen Canyon Dam may well be operated the entire method all the way down to a herbal river degree, if the bureau determined to try this,” he mentioned.

Exactly how a lot the ones renovations would value is unclear — a find out about on my own may just value round $2 million. And adjusting for 2022 greenbacks, the unique bypass tunnels value about $84 million.

“We do not truly know the way a lot it will value,” mentioned Kyle Roerink with the Great Basin Water Network. “But I feel on this time of disaster, we might be sensible to pass our T’s and dot our I’s. I will’t believe Congress neglecting this.”

The Bureau of Reclamation didn’t in an instant reply to a request for remark.

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Kyle Dunphey

Kyle Dunphey is a reporter at the Utah InDepth group, overlaying a mixture of subjects together with politics, the surroundings and breaking information. A Vermont local, he studied communications on the University of Utah and graduated in 2020. Whether on his skis or his motorbike, you’ll to find Kyle year-round exploring Utah’s mountains.

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