Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dams: Round One, at Diamond Creek

J. B. Girand had come to Phoenix from Texas, an un-degreed civil engineer. He worked for mining companies, and must have impressed somebody, for he was appointed Territorial Engineer in 1909, working on a plan for a highway system connecting county seats. For what its worth, G.W.P. Hunt was elected as governor, the state's first, in 1912, which was Girand's last year as T.E. Then, September 1913, he submitted right-of-way applications to the Interior Department for six hydropower sites in the Canyon: downstream of Whitmore, near Granite Park, near Diamond Creek (watch this one), downstream of Separation & Triumphal Arch, and at Grand Wash Cliffs. He formed a private engineering firm in 1914, and was said to have drilled some holes at the Diamond site that year. In December 1915, the General Land Office granted him preliminary power permits. A lone pioneer, Girand possibly chose Diamond because it was the most accessible, not the best, damsite. Not quite alone, actually, for near the junction with the Colorado, a 1925 LA survey group found a 1910 filing notice for "location for power purposes".

A parallel activity was withdrawing land along the river from entry to reserve it under five different orders for water-power site purposes. At first, the lands withdrawn, 1914-20, were unsurveyed, and after the survey was done, interpretations were applied in 1927-38. The 3150' contour was important, as was the line 1/4 mile from the river; both modified, of course, by the survey's legal lines. Altogether, a feast for legal geekdom. 

As the 1920's began, several arenas were active. The federal power act of 1920 created the Federal Power Commission, giving it the authority to conduct hearings and grant licenses for hydropower projects on public lands (though not in national parks). This was where Girand would pursue Diamond Creek.  He had dropped three of his six dams, and received a preliminary permit in 1920 for Diamond. 

An E. L. Bayard of Seligman applied in 1920 with an ambiguous, data-less scheme for Lee's Ferry and a scattering of low dams downstream. Reclamation found the application so incomplete, it could make no report other than to say it should be denied because of conflicting withdrawals. The FPC suspended, then rejected, it in the next decade.
 also had a (n undocumented) proposal. 

More substantially, in the same year, SCE applied to build big dams near Lee's Ferry, Bright Angel, and Diamond. SCE and LaRue (working for the USGS) cooperated in 1920-1; they agreed on the concept of head-to-toe dams. The upper "Marble Canyon" dam was said to  be 500' and run from the Paria to Cataract Canyon. SCE had four boats it used for its survey, and had drilled near Lee's Ferry. At first, SCE proposed rock fill dams; later changed to concrete. Like all the other FPC applications, this one was suspended by Congress as a preliminary to authorizing the Boulder Project. 

Not to be shouldered aside, the Los Angeles Power Bureau (a municipal utility, and in competition with SCE) had objected to SCE's plan. In 1921, it offered, I think for the first time, a dam-tunnel combination below Lee's Ferry. There would be storage at Lee's Ferry. A Marble Gorge dam would divert water into a 20' square tunnel running 42 miles to Topeaps (sic) Creek. This seven-year project--what would become known as the Kanab tunnel--would utilize the power drop the Park had pre-empted, by going around it, and then through more dams downstream. When GCNP Superintendent Raeburn reported this idea to NPS Director Mather, the latter wrote to LAPB's Scattergood opposing a project reducing the stream within the Park, since "that rushing torrent is a very essential natural feature".

In Jan 1921, a trip was organized to look at the 20 miles below Lee's.  Raeburn went with Scattergood, Mulholland of LAWater, and Reclamation Service personnel. Raeburn reported to Mather that SCE thought its six dams would not be in the Park. Raeburn, an engineer, then helpfully suggested another near Havasu Creek could impound water to the bridge at Bright Angel, opening navigation, and allowing people to get up close. (To what was left, I suppose. And this, just after a Congressional fight keeping FPC jurisdiction out of NPS lands.)  SCE echoed this in its Marble application, writing that hydropower was the only useful purpose because of the deep canyon, and there was no way it would detract from the "scenic grandeur". Instead, it would "render" the entire Grand Canyon safe for power boats, "bringing to all the sublime beauties Nature has collected in this wonder house of the world, now nearly inaccessible because of the dangers, hardships, and insurmountable obstacles for a river trip. SCE's idea was to shunt the water to the east into a canal down to the Little Colorado. There would also be a power plant at Kanab Creek, and another dam at Diamond. 

Girand re-filed his proposal in 1921 on behalf of a development firm backed by seven copper-mining companies. He had applied under earlier law in 1914-5 and been granted a preliminary permit by the Secretaries comprising the FPC, which  extended it in 1922-3. This effort got tangled up in Arizona politics (see below), a dam at Glen for diversion vs. one at Diamond for power (vs. one in Black Canyon for California).

Reclamation's opinion of all this was that the FPC was swamped by contradictory applications. It would object to anything below Diamond, and protect its interests in the Boulder-Black sites. It also objected to a Marble site. Reclamation opined that the federal government should not be the one to develop power sites. At this period, Reclamation Director Davis was working on what would become the 1922 Fall-Davis report recommending a Boulder-Black high dam for flood control, water diversion downstream, and power. 
Reclamation made its move in September 1921, telling the FPC that the hydraulic resources of the Colorado River should be developed by the government in a progressive way. Therefore, the FPC should issue no permits.

The third arena was set by the 1922 negotiations among the seven Colorado Basin states to arrive at a compact. Arizona's Senator Ashurst, in speaking for the bill in Aug 1921 went through all the wonderful provisions in the GCNP Act that allowed development, including for reclamation and irrigation. Arizona enthusiasm for this effort cooled when Hunt was again elected governor. He stood for Arizona's natural rights to the river, and wanted irrigation before power. This idea led to  February and March 1922 proposals for a Marble Canyon dam with a "highline" diversion down to the Verde River and Phoenix, drying up the Grand Canyon, Girand's scheme, and California.

As 1922 started the FPC had before it applications from Girand (now for a two-step dam -- first 300', then 465' high; a 40-mile reservoir), SCE, LAPower, and Bayard.  In March, it announced it was favorable to the Girand license, but he would have to provide downstream flow and promise not to contest any upstream diversion. Reclamation recommended no action be taken until the Boulder/Black project site was settled on, although it did not object to a Diamond dam as such. However, the records indicate that the Boulder/Black decision had already been made.  Actually, Davis had become alarmed that Girand's plan would produce so much power that the Boulder/Black project would be infeasible. It believed that Girand was backed by SCE, and really a private development aimed at circumventing Boulder/Black. The files contain a wire to the Secretary of the Interior to make his opposition known. The Park Service, observing the action, opined there would be no dam at Lee's Ferry, but "we are doomed to a policy of eternal vigilance because the demands of the irrigation and power people are bound to increase".

In June, Girand attacked the idea of a "highline" canal. Davis attacked La Rue for partisanship toward Arizona. He also wrote Hayden, saying the only problem with Diamond was its power output. He mentioned the mines, as if they were the ultimate conspirators. He also had concluded after his trip there, that Glen was not a good site for a dam now, but it was a "fine gorge, and no doubt a dam will be built there someday".

Girand struck at Reclamation in July, revising his application, and declaring his passion for private enterprise. He claimed Diamond power would cost less than Boulder, and silting would not be a problem. (Perhaps he meant IF a dam were built at Lees. Or maybe he just didnt know how muddy the Colorado was.) He produced Phoenix-area supporters, although Yuma was against him. In his application, he mentions his backing from New York City firms, and how power would be readily sold to the copper mines, for whom he appeared as the front man. (And, not to foreshadow, but this is a very close pre-play to what would happen during the ultimate dam fight in the 1960's.)

Davis riposted that Diamond power would not be competitive, and would do nothing about the need for flood control and water diversion downstream. Interior rejected the idea of private-federal cooperation, and thought the FPC did not even have jurisdiction. He explained that power would be needed for the entire Boulder/Black development, and therefore we sought out sites with extra storage (which La Rue thought would lead to excessive evaporation). The power markets in Arizona (= mines?) were not adequate. A Glen Canyon site would be too far away, and did not solve the flood problem. Girand replied power would be available sooner from his site. USGS weighed in, objecting to Davis implying that it was taking sides among the sites of Marble, Andrus, Diamond, and Spencer. LAPower had a site above Boulder. Davis said we can get power in four years.

The FPC's Chief Engineer reported in July, on "The Best Scheme of Development" for the Colorado. He summarized the Girand-Boulder conflict. He thought Boulder a better choice than a Glen site, but did not like a high Boulder dam. So build a lower power and storage dam for Boulder, then add Diamond Creek at 250', with storage at Glen. No reason to delay Girand license, since Boulder fight will go on. He concluded that because of the great distances for transmission, operating power dams will be unusally difficult and hazardous, so it is not a business for the federal government.  But in October, the FPC onl extended Girand's permit into 1923, noting it, the mines (as market), and Girand were ready, although the opposition was strenuous. At the end of the year, Reclamation engineers checked out  the Lee's Ferry damsites, reporting they were o.k., but Boulder/Black was better. 
(And all this is still without a full survey of the river; instead there are arguments with some data about a few choice sites, none of which would  figure in final plans. Hot as well as romantic, these engineer types.)

The Colorado River Compact was completed in November, though Arizona did not sign it. Reclamation commented that the compact had no jurisdiction over power, and they still objected to any license being granted. However, Arizona had granted a water license to Girand. He paid the fee, and was ready to go. (Does one picture 1920-vintage trucks rattling down Peach Springs Canyon and Diamond Creek loaded with equipment? Not to be scornful; the industrial accomplishments in despoiling the West over the previous century were wonders of brain & brawn, as well as sheer cussedness.) Reclamation thought the FPC would grant the license soon. In February 1923, Davis attacked the plan as only providing enough power for Arizona. It was too far from the west coast. Someday, there could be a dam there, as high as the Park would permit. The upper basin states joined LA in attacking Girand, saying the FPC should wait until the compact was ratified, sort of a gang-up on Arizona. Congressman Hayden, however, had spoken in favor of the compact. Perhaps even then, he was calculating what allies he would need to bring Arizona's share of the Colorado over to Phoenix and beyond--only took another half century, but Hayden had the time.

In July, LaRue and a couple of allies issued a report trashing schemes at Boulder, Glen + tunnels, Grand Canyon + tunnels, a diversion in Virgin River. The best idea would be a dam 12 miles below Diamond with a 92-mile tunnel using gravity to get water to the Bill Williams River. It would irrigate lands in southwest Arizona. Its location would put it above what a lower reservoir would come to. This was followed in September by still another scheme even further downstream, first with a canal for irrigation, then tunnels. One critic scoffed that the dam would have to be 900 feet high. 

By 1923, there had been surveys on the San Juan and in Glen Canyon, and in Aug-Oct 1923,the Birdseye expedition finally ran a survey trip -- with much ballyhoo (see Boyer-Webb)-- through the Grand Canyon. While facts were being thus gathered, the FPC held open hearings on the Girand dam. Arizona supported the Diamond site, planning to buy him out later, and then also build a dam near Lee's Ferry.  Interestingly, Governor Hunt indicated the state would not renew his water license. In Girand's testimony, he said he had been working on this for ten years, though the record is sparse, and there was opinion offered that he had dropped the ball before 1920. He also worried about having to pay for using Hualapai lands, the first time this issue had been raised. The Basin states were opposed because it would interfere with the Boulder Project.
Late in October, the FPC decided not to issue a license, but Girand's priority would hold. 

This was seen as a victory for the Boulder plan, though in Jan 1924, it was reinforced by Arizona's Hunt stopping the permit of the Girand water permit, having heard that Girand had started to move materials down to the site. As hearings on the Boulder project began, the federal government asked that no action be taken on the Girand application, and the FPC then stopped any action in April, though the staff, in favor of proceeding, had commented that the only reason was to hold a club over Arizona on the Colorado river compact, which Hunt and Colter opposed, wanting more water for Arizona.

From Reclamation report archive, Boulder City:
Weymouth report, Feb 1924, on problems of the river basin. Spurred by Girand proposal for Diamond Creek to 1775'. Reclamation had made no investigations, so used FPC report by Parsons Eng. Various details are, as usual at this stage, speculations.
Mar 1924 to Secretary from engineers in Reclamation, Corps of Army Eng., FPC and USGS. Boulder was priority. Any federal project should depend on whether gov't will be repaid within reasonable period. Lots of different damsites considered. Includes LaRue recommendation of Jul 1923 for tunnel. 
A year later, the new Reclamation Director repeated federal opposition to the Girand license, as well as all other applications since in conflict with its projects and plans. An October 1923 hearing had repeated the Basin states line-up with Boulder. The FPC continued the suspension for all filings, including Bayard (vague), SCE (several sites), Colter and Arizona (fighting each other, the other Basin states, and Girand). Girand had filed Jul 1921 additional claims for sites at Andrus and Pierce.  
Colter, Oct 1925, called for a dam near Glen with a canal; there was also a reservoir near Spencer Canyon to take water back toward the east; 
Arizona (disavowing Colter), filed Oct 1925, too, (and in Jan 1927, re-filed) for a thousand-foot dam at Bridge Canyon for power and water supply, the latter through a 66-mile tunnel. Somewhat later, they claimed they were thinking about a dam near Grand Wash for power. All of this was in aid of making claims for water. Much of the argument in the FPC papers is stated in terms of Basin needs versus private capital's equity. At about the same time, LA power staff had checked out the Bridge & Diamond sites, concentrating especially on how high a dam would have to be for a diversion, not agreeing with the Trott survey. 

December 1925, there was a move in the Senate to end FPC jurisdiction. The FPC opposed this. A discussion between LA and Salt River Project (Phoenix) staff had the latter casting doubt on Girand and highline diversion projects. In any case, the tilt toward Boulder authorization was now irreversible.  In March 1927, Congress told the FPC to issue no permits until after the Compact was ratified, then later it said not until Boulder Project Act was passed, which happened in December 1928 (finally in force six months later). 

In Nov 1930, with Boulder safely on its way, the FPC sent notice to Girand, apparently in a desk-clearing way, that it would reject his application, but without prejudice, unless he objected. He was abroad, and a hearing in March 1931 just postponed the matter for two years. Girand did not even reply in Mar 1933, and his application was formally denied. 

Round 1 was over, with the fed, Reclamation, California (Los Angeles), all having gained heavily. But the scheming over the Grand Canyon would continue, as evidenced by a January 1926 Reclamation report  listing a set of Grand Canyon dams (including Bridge Canyon) of moderate height. In 1927, Arizona's Colorado River Commission called for a comprehensive plan, using every foot of the river's fall for hydro power. And the most knowledgeable La Rue was still active, promoting a head-to-toe scheme, though as Boulder Canyon waxed, he waned. 

1 comment:

  1. Extremely facinating. I have never heard the details as you have presented them. I will share them with the rest of the Girand clan.
    Mike Girand
    Grandson of James Bell Girand whom you reference extensively above.