Glen Canyon Dam remains controversial five decades after it was finished


TED SIMONS: THE GLEN CANYON DAM WAS FINISHED BY THE BUREAU OF RECLAMATION IN 1973, FOREVER CHANGING GLEN CANYON. THE DAM HAS LONG FACED OPPOSITION FROM ENVIRONMENTALISTS, BUT OTHERS NOTE THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS. COURTNEY MALLY, MARISSA ROPER, AND MAYA PATROSE VISITED THE AREA TO TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT THE DAM AND THE AREA'S FUTURE.
DAN BEARD: I'M NOT A TERRIBLY RELIGIOUS PERSON, BUT I THINK WHEN YOU ARE ON THE COLORADO RIVER, THERE'S A SENSE OF HISTORY AND MAJESTY THAT SOMEHOW SORT OF TOUCHES YOUR SOUL.
ANDRE POTOCHNIK: I CAME DEEPLY CONNECTED TO IT. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES I HAD EVER BEEN.
DAN BEARD: IT WAS A MAGNIFICENT RIVER. A POWER RIVER THROUGH THIS INCREDIBLE CANYON.
LARRY STEVENS: IT'S MY LIFE'S BLOOD. A LOT OF ME IS THE COLORADO RIVER. THE MOLECULES OF MY BODY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT THERE BECAUSE OF THE RIVER. GLEN CANYON DAM WAS ACTUALLY THOUGHT ABOUT IN THE EARLY 40S.
DAN BEARD: IT WAS A POLITICAL COMPROMISE THAT WAS MADE BY PROBABLY A DOZEN PEOPLE SITTING IN A ROOM.
LARRY STEVENS: THERE WAS A BIG DEBATE ABOUT WHERE TO PUT THE DAM. THE BUREAU OF RECLAMATION WAS VERY POWERFUL, AND THE DECISION CAME DOWN ON PUTTING IT ON THE RIVER VERSUS PUTTING A DAM ON GLEN CANYON THAT PLACE THAT ALMOST NOBODY HAS SEEN. THE DECISION WAS PRETTY EASY THEN. WE'RE GOING TO PUT IT ON A PLACE PEOPLE DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT.
DAN BEARD: YOU FLOODED GLEN CANYON ITSELF, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE MOST MAGNIFICENT PARTS OF THE COLORADO RIVER PLATEAU.
LARRY STEVENS: NOW THERE'S NO QUESTION, IF SUCH A DAM HAD BEEN PROPOSED NOW, IT WOULDN'T MAKE IT. GLEN CANYON WOULD HAVE BEEN A NATIONAL PARK IN ITS OWN RIGHT. DAMS ARE OBVIOUSLY BAD, AREN'T THEY? THEY DESTROY NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS. WELL, UNFORTUNATELY IT HAS BEEN 54 YEARS NOW SINCE THE DAM WAS BUILT, AND A LOT OF THE NATURAL COMPONENTS OF THE ECOSYSTEM ARE ADJUSTED TO THE DAM IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
ANDRE POTOCHNIK: WHEN I STARTED RUNNING THE RIVER IT WAS 1973, AND IT HAD ONLY BEEN TEN YEARS SINCE GLEN CANYON DAM HAD BEEN COMPLETED. WHAT I SAW WAS MUCH MORE HOW THE RIVER LOOKED BEFORE THE DAM WAS THERE. BEFORE IT WAS THIS WILD RAGING, ANIMAL OF A RIVER. THAT RIVER IN FLOOD CAN CARRY A POUND OF MUD IN A QUART OF WATER. THERE IS A LOT OF COMPLEXITY THE WAY THE SYSTEM HAS ADJUSTED TO THE DAM. IT COOLED THE WATER TEMPERATURE. MADE THE WATER CLEAR, AND IT STOPPED FLOODING. EACH OF THOSE HAS HAD IMPACTS ON HOW THE RIVER ECOSYSTEM WORKS. OVER SEVERAL DECADES, I WATCHED THE VEGETATIVE CHANGES ALONG THE BANKS OF THE COLORADO RIVER, THE IMPACTS OF GLEN CANYON DAM WATER RELEASES ON THE VEGETATION, AND THE ANIMALS.
DAN BEARD: SILT IS BACKING UP BEHIND THE RESERVOIR, THE RATE OF SILTATION IS A SUBJECT OF DEBATE.
ANDRE POTOCHNIK: OVER THE NEXT 100 YEARS, THE SEDIMENT LOAD MAY RISE TO THE POINT WHERE IT BEGINS TO INFLUENCE WATER-MANAGEMENT ISSUES. THAT IS GOING TO BE SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE -- WE'RE TALKING TWO OR THREE DECADES, IS WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT ALL OF THAT MUD BUILDING UP BEHIND THE DAM? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
LARRY STEVENS: IS THE DAM GOOD OR BAD? WE CAN'T ANSWER THAT QUESTION.
DAN BEARD: DAMS ARE SIMPLY THE DINOSAURS OF THE WATER WORLD. THEY ARE GOING TO BE EXTINCT. I HAVE SAID REPEATEDLY WE SHOULD TEAR DOWN GLEN CANYON DAM.
LARRY STEVENS: THERE'S AN ECONOMIC BENEFIT OF THE DAM BEING IN PLACE. WE DON'T LIKE DAMS, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
BILL DIAK: IT CERTAINLY -- ONE OF OUR LARGEST EMPLOYERS IS THE DAM ITSELF. BUT PAIGE RELIES ON TOURISM NOWADAYS.
UNKNOWN: LAKE POWELL WOULD NO LONGER HAVE THE GREAT ATTRACTION. BEAUTIFUL BLUE WATERS, AND ORANGE-COLORED CLIFFS, AND REALLY POPULAR FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE.
BILL DIAK: IF YOU TAKE THE DAM OUT, DO YOU THINK THAT THE RIVER AND THE CANYONS ARE GOING TO RETURN TO WHAT THEY WERE BEFORE? ABSOLUTELY NOT. IT CAN'T HAPPEN. WE PUT THAT FOOTPRINT THERE FOREVER. IT IS FOREVER IMPACTED.
DAN BEARD: REALITY IS, YOU CAN GET RID OF IT, AND WE REALLY SHOULD.
ANDRE POTOCHNIK: I DON'T THINK THAT THE EXPENSE AND DIFFICULTY OF PULLING THAT HUNK OF CONCRETE OUT OF THERE SHOULD BE WASTING THAT MUCH MONEY.
LARRY STEVENS: SO NOT A FIVE-YEAR PLAN FOR DISMANTLING THE DAM, BUT A 100-YEAR PLAN FOR WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
TED SIMONS: GLEN CANYON DAM WAS DEDICATED BY LADY BIRD JOHNSON, PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON'S WIFE OF SEPTEMBER 22ND, 1966.
TED SIMONS: COMING UP WE'LL LEARN ABOUT "WRECKING CREW," THE GROUP BEHIND ME HITS FROM THE 60S AND 70S. THAT'S THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." AND THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON THIS SPECIAL WATER EDITION OF "ARIZONA HORIZON." YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.
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VOICEOVER: "ARIZONA HORIZON" IS MADE POSSIBLE WITH THE SUPPORT OF ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE FOR PEOPLE INSPIRED TO ENJOY ARIZONA'S UNIQUE OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE. AND BY ATS, WORKING 24/7 TO KEEP ARIZONA ON.

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.”

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In this segment:

Dan Beard: Former Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation
Andrew Potochnik: Geologist, Grand Canyon 
Larry Stevens: Ecologist, Colorado River
Bill Diak: Mayor, Page

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