Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dams: Arizona Trying, 1930's (re-done, 6/5)

The 1920's round in the competition over how to develop the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon's region was clearly won by the federal Bureau of Reclamation's plan to protect and serve California's needs. The seemingly vigorous Girand effort to build a private power dam at Diamond Creek was thwarted by the non-Arizona Basin states allied with the feds, arguing before the Federal Power Commission that the appropriate order was to build the Boulder Project first. (The FPC in the 1920's was composed of the Secretaries of War, Interior, and Agriculture; in 1930, this was changed to a five-member independent board. My impression, however, is the FPC staff may have evaluated projects on grounds other than what their bosses from the administration favored.) Arizona fussed, fumed, and shook its fists on the outskirts, without major effect. It first backed, then undercut, Girand (who was  Phoenix-based.) It refused to accept the Compact allocating the Colorado. Governor Campbell in 1922 appointed La Rue as head of a state engineering board. And La Rue's 1925 staircase scheme including a Lee's Ferry dam was certainly a counter to the Boulder Project, though he proved an ineffective advocate. 

One way, therefore, to tell the story of Colorado River development affecting the Canyon would be continued as a consistently maintained federal effort until the 1970's wound up the matter with enactment of a Grand Canyon National Park excluding dams. That would be, however, to underplay the very determined efforts made by Arizona to gain control over the Canyon's resources. Arizona acted as a competitor, not a supplicant. There was a genuine Arizonan public position of argument for independent state action, what came to be called the "go it alone" policy. This meant that the FPC remained a player as well as an arena, in which federal plans might be topped. SoCalEdison, a private company, had been a pioneer, but faded after its explorations at Glen, Marble, Diamond, and Boulder. Girand was shoved aside by his home state. The Los Angeles municipal utility, LAPWD, remained a forceful presence, but it was Arizona state action that consistently fought the fed for the chance to realize the power dream inherent in the Canyon's 2000-foot drop.

With the installation of the Boulder Project, the struggle over the Bridge Canyon site became the main focus. A view of the Bridge Canyon site, to show what the dreamers were salivating over. Looking downstream, Hualapai land on river left. (Photo by Duwain Whitis, Jan 2010)

The names changed: The Board of Directors of State Institutions (DSI) gave way to the Arizona Colorado River Commission (CRC), succeeded by the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission (AISC). Eventually, the big player was the Arizona Power Authority (APA). I am not, however, a student of Arizona government & political infighting; for me, whatever the institutional arrangments, they were all in service of building a dam (or two) in the Grand Canyon to generate Arizona power and wealth. So I will often talk just about "Arizona" as the actor.

1925-7: Following Girand's lead and acting on La Rue's expertise, the DSI sent to the FPC application for projects at Glen, Bridge and Grand Wash. In 1925, Gov. Hunt pushed for a Bridge project for irrigation, flood control, & power based on a report complete with maps and photos of a thousand-foot (later lowered to 825') dam.  The water would be shunted into a tunnel over to Spencer Canyon and then on in a tunnel or canal for 55 miles The commitment to the irrigation purpose was strong, in its engineering wildness emphasizing Arizona's hope of getting a pipe in the river before it reached the California border. Governor Hunt, as well as longtime Arizona water activist Colter, were stirring the pot, relying not only on the 1923 USGS survey (and LaRue' s plans) but on local surveys, run by Sturtevant-Stam (1923) and Trott-Parker (1925). (These were water experts in Arizona.) They blessed the Bridge site for a highline diversion, as one variation on the high-line projects intended to get Arizona its water before it touched California. 

The DSI application, along with related ones, was simple and unsupported. The state only wanted to show that it was working on a plan, which the Girand dam would interfere with. It also tried to get Girand supporters to work with them, without success. Arizona's fixation (before WWII and the Sun Belt) was that there were millions of additional acres that could be irrigated, either under this plan and/or Colter's High-line Canal from Marble to the Verde. Arizona insisted it had been diligent, having investigated in 1923, and in 1924 proposed the Bridge project (as written about by La Rue), and again in 1926. Interestingly, Los Angeles also scouted the site then, concluding it was fine. Congress, however, blocked all FPC action pending approval of the Compact and Boulder Project legislation, formidable tools in the political structure California-firsters were building.

Arizona's Colorado River Commission in 1932 touted the earlier plans to show state intentions to develop the river, emphasizing tunnels to carry water south from Marble Canyon. The details were contained in an impressive document with supporting data, photographs, and maps. The 438' dam at mile 4.5 fed water into a tunnel south to the Little Colorado; and another tunnel west of the San Francisco Peaks to the Verde.  Infighting ensued through the 1930's, but with no real action. (One insider joke: Northcutt Ely, California's leading hard-line water lawyer, applied for a job to write an Arizona water contract, but CRC turned him down as detrimental to the state.) The CRC found it had no authority to file dam applications, but used the state Land Commission. 

The Boulder Project, Hoover dam, was authorized, built, and went into operation through the 1930's. Early on, the Bureau of Reclamation first reassured Arizona that Hoover would not affect power production at Bridge. Then, it mused to itself that Bridge's power might be required to divert water below Hoover. In 1933-4, another touchy subject was raised when Reclamation and Indian Affairs jousted inconclusively over whether Hualapai land could be withdrawn for a reservoir. 

Continuing agitation for the high-line projects brought a 1937 AzCRC request to Reclamation to think about an investigation, but engineering staff said that no need, since they would conflict with operation of Boulder and the Compact, as Hayden was also informed. Reclamation's Debler in 1938 scheduled studies of Bridge and a Marble site for 1943. In 1940, drought led to heightened interest in a diversion from Parker dam to Phoenix, and this time Hayden and Reclamation agreed to do something in October, putting off studies of Glen and Bridge. 

*Material from: 
Arizona archives for water agencies.
Bureau of Reclamation Archives
Federal Power Commission
Los Angeles Dept of Water & Power
National Park Service

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