Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Navajo Navy?


The (Murky) Situation
According to a January 17 letter from Grand Canyon National Park Acting Superintendent:

“Navajo Nation Army Corps of Engineers Permit – The Navajo Nation has recently applied for and received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to construct a dock along the Colorado River, downstream of Lees Ferry, Arizona, within Grand Canyon National Park. The approved dock measures 12 feet long and 128 feet wide, accessed by two gangways, each measuring 60 feet long and 6 feet wide, connected to the shoreline. The stated purpose, in the application to the COE, is to conduct law enforcement patrols along the Colorado River, from Lees Ferry (river mile 0) to the Little Colorado River confluence (River Mile 61), focusing on natural and cultural resource violations. DOI Solicitor’s Michael Williams and Robert Eaton have been in contact with the legal counsel for COE, expressing the DOI concern for the issuance of the permit without consultation with DOI or NPS. The Navajo Nation interprets the western boundary of the Navajo Nation differently than the DOI solicitors, variously claiming the middle of the Colorado River or the shoreline along Marble Canyon (eastern Grand Canyon). The 1975 Act proposed the rim of Grand Canyon through Marble Canyon as the boundary with the concurrence of the Navajo Nation. To date no record of concurrence exists. The DOI solicitors have affirmed, in writing in 1969 and 2003, that the eastern boundary of GRCA is ¼ mile east of the eastern or southern shore of the Colorado River.

Acting on this news, River Runners for Wilderness sought more information, and ran into bureaucratic thickets. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020



Revisiting the long-dead world of Colorado River Basin politics in the 1960s is surely an esoteric exercise; for me, it is an itch I need to scratch. For any reader not up to speed on the maneuvers of that dimmed time of late summer 1966, my short history (17 Sep 2018 "Dumping the Dams") may help to make more sense of the following what-if historicizing.

What is generally accepted is that at the crucial moment when momentum needed to be sustained at full strength to get from positive House Interior Committee action and onto the House floor for approval, California betrayed its supposed allies, Chairman Aspinall and bill prime workhorse Representative M. Udall. This doomed the pending legislation.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Pearson's Myth: A Missed Opportunity


To start his 2019 book on the Grand Canyon dams fight of the 1960s*, Byron Pearson describes interviewing David Brower in July 1997. Their  only personal encounter, Pearson offers (p.xi) "graciously received", "patiently answered", "in frail health" (he died aged 88 on 5 November 2000), as descriptors of Brower to set the mood. During that interview, Brower suggested that Pearson might want to interview me**. He did so in March 1998. 

At that interview, we discussed the 1966-8 political history as I remembered it of how this nation, acting through Congress, decided to keep the Grand Canyon free of any more dams. Pearson told me that he and his completed doctoral dissertation were fully committed to his idea that the Canyon was saved, not by "the massive public outcry" generated by the Sierra Club (led at that time by its Executive Director David Brower) and other environmental organizations, but because of the unyielding and insurmountable opposition of a key Senator, Henry Jackson of Washington. 

I remember Pearson as somewhat surprised, even nonplussed, to learn from me that not only had advocates for the Canyon recognized Jackson's crucial role, but as a consequence of his overall conservationist stance, he and we worked extremely closely with his office and other key Northwesterners during this intense period of legislative struggles over the dams and other what are now called environmental issues.*** I think I would have tried to convey how important to me personally this sub rosa alliance was in our efforts. He expressed regret (I think it was regret) that he had already completed his writing and could not adjust his views.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Myths of Power
How the Sierra Club Ruled and Ruined...or Couldnt

A rich story like the one telling how the Grand Canyon was kept free of giant hydroelectric dams is bound to spin out exaggerations, tall tales, boastings, legends, and myths. And somewhere in the verbiage, maybe truths are to be found. I have tried to search out some truths in other posts of this blog, but here I want to indulge myself taking a swing at some of the fantastical inventions. As a participant in the 1966-8 climax of that story, I find two myths -- like zombies ever popping up -- particularly obnoxious. Obnoxious, and when taken together, puzzlingly contradictory.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

OH! Its Complicated...
How Henry Jackson and the Sierra Club Saved the Grand Canyon
Sometimes Actions Speak Louder
But We Must Listen

In his 2002 Still the Wild River Runs/ Congress, the Sierra Club, and the Fight to Save Grand Canyon, Byron Pearson writes (Introduction xvi-xvii)

"the documentary record and (Secretary Stewart) Udall's own personal recollections support a conclusion that he made his decision (to seek alternatives to the Grand Canyon dams) out of political pragmatism to gain the support of Washington Henry Jackson, who, as chairman of the Senate Interior Committee, had opposed the dams because they were the primary means of financing the importation of water into the Colorado River Basin from the Pacific Northwest. ... I believe that the evidence supports my premise that Stewart Udall would have supported the construction of the Grand Canyon dams had congressional support for them existed in late 1966. Hence, I will argue throughout this book that despite the (save the Grand Canyon) national publicity campaign, it appears as though the Grand Canyon dams were eliminated  because of the aggregate effects of the political intrigue between Arizona and California and Stewart Udall's political pragmatism, rather than as a result of the environmentalist' ability to influence Congress."

In other posts, I have argued (1) that had the "national publicity campaign" to save the Grand Canyon not existed, supporters of the dams, including the Secretary, would have used "political intrigue and pragmatism" to mollify Senator Jackson so that the dams could be authorized but not used to threaten control over the Pacific Northwest's water resources, and (2) that the complexities of the story of the dams, one Pearson tries here to simplify, built over the years to the situation where a national campaign like the one the Sierra Club was prominent in re-worked the ground and context in which individuals made their decisions about the dams.

Friday, September 6, 2019

No Grand Canyon Dams? Why Not?
(revised 8 Sep 2019)

1. The Bureau of Reclamation insisted that the dam(s) were, and needed to be, tied to a reclamation project, in this case bringing water from the Colorado River to central Arizona.

1a. The Federal Power Commission, ready to issue a license for a state-built Marble dam, was blocked from doing so by Reclamation, Interior, Hayden and Arizona Democrats.

1b. After Hayden's Bridge Canyon Project (CAP) was blocked in the House of Representatives in 1952 in order to settle water claims, the Bridge Canyon/Hualapai dam could have been considered by itself; the proposal was broached. The effect on Hoover might well have caused California to oppose this move. In any case, Reclamation and the Western water establishment in general saw the dams as federal reclamation property, and so the dams were tied, like concrete boots to the gangland squealer, to the CAP. Only when those weighted legs were cut off, did the CAP float free.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Damming the Grand Canyon

How The Grand Canyon Dams Saved Arizona and the American West
(A Fabulation the Moral of Which Remains Relevant)* 
(revised 8 Sep 2019)

This story is usually told in the celebratory terms of the western boomer and booster, lauding the accomplishments of statesmen and engineers in the endless unrolling of American Manifest Destiny and Civilizing the Wild Frontier.

My effort here offers a behind-the-scenes look at the politics and politicking that brought to fruition Western water resources planning of the middle twentieth century. Starting with the 1920-30's triumph of California in obtaining federal construction of mighty Hoover dam, the narrative usually moves to the compelling clash between the Colorado River's Upper and Lower Basin water policy-makers that brought about the taming of the upper Colorado behind Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon dams. 

An entertaining sidebar to that wonderful accomplishment was the resolution of the dispute between defenders of our great National Park System and those who wanted every foot and acre-foot of the Colorado to be put to constructive human use. That dispute, of course, was resolved after an energetic public relations and congressional lobbying campaign when the federal government decided that a third great dam, to be located in Dinosaur National Monument (now an expanded Park), was not immediately needed and should be left out of the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA). This was claimed by Park protectionists as a fine victory that reinforced existing law barring dam projects from National Parks and Monuments.