Glen Canyon Dam remains controversial five decades after it was finished
June 6, 2018
Experts in the area share their thoughts on the future of the Glen Canyon Dam, the effects it has had on the environment and dam’s economic benefits.
The Glen Canyon Dam was finished by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1963, forever changing Glen Canyon. Located in northern Arizona, just south of the Utah state line, the dam has long faced opposition from environmentalists, but others note the dam’s positive influence in the near town of Page.
“If you take the dam out, do you think the river and canyons are going to return to what they were before,” Mayor of Page Bill Diak says. “Absolutely not. It can’t happen. We’ve put that footprint there forever. It is forever impacted.”
Page was founded shortly after the dam was finished in ’63, giving the workers a new home. While the town now mainly relies on tourism for their economy, losing jobs at the dam if it were to be removed would have serious consequences.
Ecologist at the Colorado River Larry Stevens agrees that removing the dam wouldn’t be worth it today. It’s already been in place for 54 years, and the changes made can’t be undone.
“Dams are obviously bad, aren’t they?” Stevens says. “They destroy natural ecosystems. Well, unfortunately it’s been 54 years now since the dam was built and a lot of the natural components of the ecosystem have adjusted to the dam in one way or another.”
There was a debate when discussion of building the dam began several decades ago. The Bureau of Reclamation was deciding between building at Glen Canyon or the Echo Park Dam. However, Echo Park was the location of Dinosaur National Monument, an area that many people were familiar with. With that fact, the USBR went with the lesser known Glen Canyon.
Today, there are many that are opposed to the dam’s presence. Environmentalists say they have seen evident changes in the vegetation and wildlife surrounding the canyon. Andrew Potochnik, geologist at the Grand Canyon, says the biggest cost has been the flooding of Glen Canyon it self which was one of the most magnificent parts of the Colorado River Plateau.
“Now there’s no question,” Potochnik says. “If such a dam had been proposed now, it wouldn’t make it. Glen Canyon would’ve been a national park in its own right.”
One of the larger issues with the dam that both sides agree with is the sediment, or silt, building up along the walls of the damn. The river has been pushing tons of mud against the cement which will cause water management issues in the future, Stevens says.
Former Commissioner of the USBR Dan Beard says there’s only one solution: the dam needs to brought down.
“Dams are simply the dinosaurs of the water world,” Beard says. “They’re going to be extinct. I’ve said repeatedly that we should tear down Glen Canyon Dam… The reality is you can get rid of it and we really should.”