Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dam the Future!

This blog deals in general with the past in order to think about the future. Many, most, pasts never happened, but we can imagine what if they had, what would their futures have looked like. Here's one, and I fervently hope the worst I will consider. At some point, of course, I will post about this past.


On September 30, 1968, President Johnson signed the Colorado River Basin Project Act, assuring the future of the hitherto mostly undeveloped area north and south of the Grand Canyon.  The Act was a triumph for Senator Carl Hayden and other Pacific Southwest water statesmen, but most especially welcome to the Bureau of Reclamation with its authorization of two dams in the Grand Canyon, the 736-foot Hualapai dam at river mile 238, reservoir extending to r.m. 144, and the 310-foot Hayden-Udall-Goldwater dam at river mile 40, reservoir extending beyond r.m. 0. 

The nasty effort by the Sierra Club and its axis of environmental evil was thoroughly discredited for its lies and exaggerations, the effort effectively ending when Floyd Dominy displaced Stewart Udall as Secretary of the Interior because of Udall’s several efforts to thwart approval of the dams. The so-called green movement, with its aim of preventing orderly, proper, and profitable development of the American West’s water, power, and other resources for the benefit of its booming population, has faded into a forlorn echo, with endless repetitions of its Cassandra-like prophecies.

Both HUG and Hualapai dams function as run-of-the-river generators of peaking power, with two maximum releases each day, the rest of the time subsiding to near shutoff. HUG’s power lines come up from both sides of the dam site, one set joining the lines from Glen Canyon dam & the Navajo coal-fired plant, the other going to those running north over the Kaibab to Las Vegas. Paved roads on each side of the canyon afford views of the dam, powerplant & lines, and associated structures.  Lees Ferry is the upstream access to the boating, skiing, and fishing on HUG reservoir. A recreational village on the scale of Wahweap has been established along the upper end of the reservoir. Downstream, near the damsite, the BuRec access on the east was improved to allow tram access to the bench above the elevator to the dam so that reservoir trips can start up-lake avoiding the necessity of a round trip.

Hualapai is an even more extensive development. Powerlines run both north and south, using the Esplanade bench to supply the new Las Vegas-financed Arizona Strip developments, Mt Trumbull, Nixon, and New Toroweap, where additional cover was placed on John Riffey’s grave to dampen the spinning sound. The Hualapai control southside entry to the floating docks, the road down Peach Springs providing prime reservoir access once the technical details were worked out to handle the twice-daily fluctuations. It also provided another near-water landing spot for sight-seeing helicopter trips. On the north side, the Whitmore tram and paved road provided easy access between the reservoir and airports at the Strip tourist developments. The new paved road to the Shivwits overlooks takes off from the old Bundyville, now restored as a Latter-Day Saints Old Tucson-type educational destination.

Although the Hualapai reservation boundary remains unaltered, the new recreation area, Lake Dominy NRA, includes the Shivwits and Whitmore areas, those parts of the old National Monument that were not returned to public domain, and the lower Kanab Creek drainage. The new NPS visitor centers are at Dellenbaugh, whose SkyTower affords fine views, and Toroweap, with easy access to the reservoir shore below. The Hualapai-Dominy Friendship Arch, located at river mile 179 is particularly thrilling for reservoir boat tours, with its accurate stereophonic reproduction of the sound of Lava Falls, reputed to have been “a swell ride” according to old river codgers hired by the Hualapai to entertain the crowds of tourists waiting for their helicopter trips.

A satisfactory boundary for the 250,000 acre Havasupai reservation was established in the 1973 legislation rectifying the boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park. The reservation includes all the Cataract Canyon lands down to the Colorado River Wilderness Exclusion Zone, starting from the Hualapai Reservation and going east to Upper Supaitown between Pasture Wash and Rowes Well. The area is well served by the  paved road connecting Tusayan to Topacoba Hilltop, although tourist traffic has been low due to the popularity of the services provided by the Hualapai-Havasupai Helicopter & Hilltop Corp, which now controls air access on the south side of the Grand Canyon west of GCV, as well as the trams into Havasu Canyon and from Bachit Point to the Bat Cave.

Public opinion brought a regulating structure downstream from HUG Dam so that the river flows evenly to near Kanab Creek, where Hualapai reservoir’s fluctuations make river travel hazardous. The two-way powerboat trips along this 100+ miles of natural river in the National Park have become even more popular than the Hualapai tours, particularly combined with HHHH’s access services to the lodges at the Little Colorado, Phantom Ranch, and Tapeats Creek. The Bright Angel trail has been retained for the historic mule traffic allowing the Kaibab trail to be converted to a high-speed automated orv track. 

Improvements to the road network on the north side provide carefree automobile and  tourbus access to the Kaibab, its campsites, hunting lodges and viewpoints, and to the wilderness areas set aside between the rim and the inner gorge. In winter, for the few years that remained when snow fell, snowmobiles provided a similarly swift experience of what remained of the forest. The pieces of wilderness set aside south of the river below the rim are likewise enjoyed by many, made quite attractive by confining motor use to the two-mile-wide wilderness exclusion zone along the boating corridor.

Visitation to the Grand Canyon Global Recreation Complex has exceeded the original 15 million projection by ever increasing amounts. Economic prosperity for the Hualapai and Havasupai is assured, given the steady supply of housekeeping, guiding, costume-dancing, and food-service jobs set aside for these interesting First Americans by the Las Vegas owners & operators of HHHH and the reservoir & other recreation sites.  

The National Park, pared to a more manageable 750,000 acres by the Grand Canyon Rectification Act of 1973, hums with activity even though its now-shabby facilities are only one of several centers of tourist interest. Its staff of 25 seems to handle the lightened tasks quite smoothly for a government bureau, though the National Park is a minor contributor to the area’s booming economy fueled by the more pleasing and profitable private developments. 

The Northside nuclear complex in Fredonia, a baseload complement to the Grand Canyon dams’ peaking generators, is fully fueled by the uranium mined at the various sites scattered across the Strip. The do-it-yourself prospecting tours by Grand Canyon Nuclear Corp are a highly popular addition to the area’s many other activities, as well as keeping alive the possibility of still further discoveries. 

The sometimes bitter struggle over the nuclear plant’s water needs versus local demands will no doubt be resolved once the siting arrangements are completed for the pipeline from the Pacific Northwest, to be financed by future revenues from the Grand Canyon dams. On the other hand, the continuing drought, now in its 17th year, has provided an exemplary test of water statesmanship for Colorado River Basin lawyers and federal employees, joined together in the successful effort to re-define the Columbia River from a regional to a national resource. Almost certainly, transporting Columbia water will allow at least a partial refilling behind the now-mothballed Glen Canyon dam, thus quieting the voices of those who clamor to leave Powell reservoir at its current stagnant level. Bad feeling between the upper and lower basin state populations has been only partially assuaged by the subsidies paid to the upper states by the federal government.

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