Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Dream Book -- La Rue, 1925

Before 1925, the Girand proposal for a Diamond Creek dam seemed a major contender. After that year, it was a corpse. Before that year, there seemed to be live argument between major control dams above the Grand Canyon (La Rue et al.), and below it (California and Reclamation). After that year, the contest was over, as the decision slid irreversibly away from La Rue's ideas. And almost as a grave marker for his hopes, La Rue published in 1925 the results of his researches, including from the 1923 USGS expedition, in USGS Water Supply Paper 556 "Water Power and Flood Control of Colorado River Below Green River, Utah".*

Well, thats the title. What it really is, is a compendium of dam sites for flood control (23 pp.) and power (62 pp. of which about half are on sites in the Grand Canyon) -- A book of dreams for those who believed that every inch of river drop should produce its modicum of electricity. In his Synopsis, La Rue wrote he intended to present facts on all damsites, and their relative values. He presented his "comprehensive plan of development" (20 years later, Reclamation would do the same, and not so different) to provide "maximum practicable utilization of the potential power, maximum preservation of water for irrigation, effective elimination of the flood menace, and adequate solution of the silt problem". The order suggests a set of priorities that, by not echoing California's, indicates his un-political ways. Of course, the comprehensive plan does not comprehend the protection of the values Grand Canyon National Park was set up to celebrate. 
La Rue's preliiminary plan contemplated 13 dams with 3,383' of power drop or head and 42 million acre-feet (maf) for floods & flow equalization and silt storage. Given the continuing debate over allocating the river, he offered these figures on stream flow at Lee's Ferry: 1923--16.8 maf; 1924--11.6 maf; mean flow 1895-1922--14.4 maf. He speculated that maximum development would require another 5 maf, indicating that a comprehensive plan would preclude an "unnecessary waste of water". He noted the cooperation of many in his work, including Southern California Edison, but not Birdseye as leader of the 1923 survey.

More interestingly to me, he footnoted the US Geographic Board, 4 Feb 1925, as, correctly, defining the Grand Canyon "extending from the mouth of Paria River and Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs", 278 miles long. Additionally, it decided that the "portion of the Grand Canyon between the mouth of the Paria River and the mouth of the Little Colorado heretofore known as Marble Canyon should hereafter be called Marble Gorge". (Confusedly, the Board apparently forgot that it had made this correction, and now cites "Marble Canyon" as the designation)**. It took the administration at Grand Canyon National Park another half-century and an Act of Congress to accept the definition of the Grand Canyon. Visitors to the Park for decades were presented with a Canyon truncated to a third its length, confined to the very development-constrained boundary of the Park (see my January 2010 entries). Dam boosters even used this mis-identification to pretend dams would not affect the Canyon. Anyway, the dam-builders did not really want to accept that the Park restricted their plans, as they kept scheming about ways to use all the drop and all the water.

La Rue took up the dangers to hydraulic structures from ice (some charming stories about using it to cross at Lee's in a couple of hard winters, including use by Navajo and their animals), floods (at some sites, spillways would have to handle up to 250,000 second-feet), silt (and how upstream dams would lessen the problem), and logs (lots of big ones in floods like the 1923 Little Colorado record).*** 

In planning for flood control, he briefly discussed several in the upper basin, but his heart was in a site he had found in 1915 for a 400' dam, located around the loop upstream of Lee's Ferry. Tunnels through the neck would bring water to the powerhouse at Lee's. This site was drilled by SCE in 1922-3. He noted it would not reach Rainbow Bridge, and at 400' would not interfere with a major site near Dark Canyon. On this topic, he skipped the Grand Canyon as not providing the right kind of sites, mentioned the work by Reclamation at Boulder Canyon, abandoned for the Black Canyon site 18 miles downstream, with its greater storage capacity (34 maf). He lists the upstream sites that would be interfered with, to Devils Slide in the Grand Canyon. In closing his arguments on flood control, he advocated a site even farther downstream than Black since it could be built in the shortest time.

La Rue's wanted power development to begin (this is all below Green River) with Dark Canyon dam, then at his Lee's Ferry site. Once in the Grand Canyon, he had to go down 30 miles from the Paria to the Redwall site, due to the presence of shale.**** This again inhibits him until he reaches one mile below Hance rapid at Mineral Canyon, where "It is safe to assume that this site would form a unit of a plan for the development of power in the Grand Canyon." With these four sites, "The physical conditions are such as to preclude any material change in this portion of the plan." But below, dam sites are numerous. He suggests Ruby Canyon, Specter Chasm, and at Havasu; all these form "a project for the distant future". "In the near future", the geology down to Diamond is not particularly favorable, so a high dam at Diamond or below may be preferable. Thus we reach Bridge Canyon, where a high dam would fully utilize the drop from Havasu Canyon, which he tarts up by a whopper of diverting water into a "gravity system" for southern California's cities. Well, I dont really know, but to me this sounds like mischief-making. Particularly as he next repeats his concern about "all unnecessary losses of water due to evaporation from reservoirs", e.g. the 34-maf impoundment behind a high Black Canyon dam. He wanted to give that up in favor of more power sites at Devils Slide, Hualapai Rapids, and a low Black Canyon dam; all with smaller reservoirs.

And here is La Rue's power dream, from the upper right: Dark, Glen, Redwall, Mineral, Ruby, Specter, Havasu, Bridge, Devils Slide, Lower Black, with Glen and Mohave for storage. The circled numbers are alternate sites. 

*Doing research on such books and related papers is often a matter of going to the archives -- national, regional, university libraries' & others' special collections. It is therefore a happy surprise to find that at times Inter-Library Loan can bring a book to my own turf for more leisurely enjoyment. I can only express my appreciation to those who set up and operate this irreplaceable system for making available artifacts of olden times. Both La Rue papers have come to me this way, and this particular book reeks of its own history, with a handwritten note "Phantom Ranch RS", and now stamped "Reference Library, Grand Canyon National Park". But then, what better place to store this headstone for the dam-builders' dreams?

**The Board, true to bureaucratic conservatism, has not recognized the more expansive definition of the Grand Canyon enacted by Public Law 93-620, the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act of 1975, to wit: "from the mouth of the Paria River to the Grand Wash Cliffs, including tributary side canyons and surrounding plateaus".

***In Boyer-Webb on the 1923 expedition, they describe how the huge amounts of wood piled up tempted river runners to competitively start enormous fires in the Grand Canyon. Sort of like sailors's treatment of the dodo on Mauritius. 

****This site was, I judge, at river mile 30 just upstream from the Fence Fault. The site later investigated by Reclamation was down stream, above Redwall Cavern (river mile 33). It was superseded by one down at mile 39. La Rue may have first offered the idea, but the choice between the sites became all tangled up in the water politics of the 1950's and 60's, with federal Reclamation being confronted by the Arizona Power Authority. And mixing in was the super-pipe-dream from Los Angeles of a dam at the downstream site with the water diverted into a tunnel over to Kanab Creek. 

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