Monday, June 21, 2010

Dams: and Parks I (rev. 6/28)

A few words of review: From the initial nourishing of both in the 1910's, dams and National Parks mutually vexed each other's proponents, especially so in the Grand Canyon. Legislated with a stunted boundary and exceptions allowing exploitation, Grand Canyon National Park arguably seemed, perhaps, closed to river damming projects. Proclamation of the second National Monument, 1932, generated more questions, debate, and suspicions. Dam proponents, having narrowed their target to the Bridge site, needed to know how high a dam they could build. That is, was there any impediment to backing water through the Monument? Did the reservoir have to stay out of the Park entirely, or could it intrude a few miles? Could the Park boundary be cut back to permit a reservoir? Since no dams could be built inside the Park itself, could the river be routed around the Park for more complete utilization?

The Reclamation map below, from 1966, shows the field of debate:

The boundaries of the Monument and Park in the 1940's were as shown; Mead's NRA did not exist until the 1960's. Dep't of Interior investigations and planning in the 40's assumed there would be a federal dam at the Bridge site (3). Its reservoir would, apparently uncontestedly, run through the Monument to the Park boundary (4, 6) at Havasu Canyon. Thirteen miles upstream, Kanab Creek entered the Colorado (Mi 143.7). In between, the Park was only on the left bank; the Monument on the right. Upstream of Kanab, the Monument gave way to National Forest; the Park still on the left. Tapeats Creek (~Mi 134) is just a bit upstream of where the Park boundary moves north and takes in both banks.

My entries of 5/31/10 and 6/5/10 deal with moves by Reclamation, NPS, Arizona, the FPC, and the Basin states in the years before World War II. We can pick up the story from the NPS side in 1938 with GCNP Superintendent Tillotson (one of the two best Sup'ts) writing in May to the Director about the proposed dam sites, none of which would be in the Monument: Regrettable if volcanism that prompted the Monument creation were covered by water, but we could not stop that even if we wished to.* Although Tillotson was an engineer, this opinion is that of a man of his time. For over half a century almost all attention on the Canyon accepted Powell's original constricted view; the Monument did extend that, but the idea of protecting the Canyon in its entirety did not exist. So Tillotson could say: We should fight any dam inside the Park or Monument, but not if it is just the reservoir that intrudes; this distinction will strengthen our position. Tillotson noted that a dam to 1773' would be 2.2 miles below the Park, and would put the lava flow under 106' of water, "thus destroying the most spectacular and scientifically important part of the exhibit but not obliterating it".  

It is a bit of a relief to come across a memo from geologist McKee with questions to guide research about the lava flow area that point up the real values the Monument celebrated: Were there lava dams? Did Toroweap once go to river depth? How many lava flows were there? How much movement has there been along the faults? 

Tillotson met with Reclamation's Debler in June, and found he weighed recreation values more than expected. He wanted to work on a common focus, even if there could not be a complete reconciliation. 
NPS in May 39 speculated about the impact of a reservoir on GCNM, perhaps in connection with Hayden legislation to revise NM boundary. Visitation would be heavy, with diverse views and inner gorge trips, though there may be problems from fluctuation. A large area of the Canyon would be opened up, with side canyons heightening interest. In response to Arizona's Bridge initiative, NPS stated that FPC could not approve a reservoir in a Monument, and anyway, Reclamation would be better. There was an exchange of memoranda between chiefs of Reclamation & NPS in May-Jun 1940.

Reclamation started its field work on Bridge in Sep 41 (finishing in Mar 43). After several exchanges on cooperation and a proposed NPS survey of recreational resources in the Colorado Basin, a December agreement with NPS had Bridge as #2 on the list of studies, and asserted that Interior "already has agreed in principle to a change in designation" from NM to recreation area, to allow NPS to "accept new uses and values" from building Bridge. 

At that point, Tillotson listed, for FPC consideration, all the damage an Arizona reservoir would do to lava flows, a volcanic plug, hot springs, and depth of canyon. (Of course, this would have applied to a Reclamation-built dam, too.) However, NPS then chose not to appear at the FPC hearing; the Director feared it might lead to an effort to discredit NPS programs. In the event, the FPC suspended the application.

In the last half of 1941, NPS's F.E. Olmsted organized a study of the Colorado Basin, including the relation of Bridge dam to GCNP. This fit into Sec. Ickes' November order for his bureaus to consult on Bridge due to defense needs. Drilling was being carried out at the damsite in June 1942, when GCNP Sup't Bryant (the other of the top two; he succeeded Tillotson who had become Regional Director) met with Larson of Reclamation, who indicated they were thinking of a higher dam to generate more power, spurred by the new magnesium plant near Las Vegas. Reclamation would check out the Havasu junction , although Larson  repeated that the dam height was controlled by the Park. 

A preliminary NPS survey was carried out in June 1942 on the affected area and points of access. The writer of this greatly enthusiastic document thought there was "no question that the canyon area from Peach Springs  to Mt. Trumbull between Aubrey Cliffs and Shivwits Plateau contains a greater variety of scenic, scientific and recreational interest than any other section of the Grand Canyon region". (At last!) This is more or less the area along the great Hurricane fault, with large exposures of limestones. There were four faults, and more granite than at Bright Angel; depths to over 5500'. There should be a south side drive. Peach Springs canyon is the main access. On top, there are Hualapai houses, logging, road construction. There could be a road and lodge on the Esplanade above Granite Park. The downstream canyons should all be included in a recreation area. 

Reclamation's internal summary of the NPS study noted most of it was outside the reservoir area, although NPS commented on the lava flows to be covered, and suggested keeping 10' below low-water at GCNP's western boundary. Economics, however, strongly justify raising the head, though precedent opposes this. Silt near Havasu would be washed down, and access would be only by boat anyway. NPS has to decide how to handle, since geologically 1850' is best elevation for the dam. They dont object to our plans for road and rail access. The best operating plan is to fill the reservoir with the spring flood, then draw down in winter, giving a fluctuation of 175' to 250' (picture this: the reservoir withdrawing from Havasu down below Whitmore, 40 miles or so, and then back up again).

June 1942, NPS received an opinion about Bridge's impacts from a geologist who had studied the Archean rocks from Granite Park on into the Lower Granite Gorge. He thought them monotonously granitic and pegmatitic, with locally interesting obscure phenomena. The best of the sedimentary-based schists near Travertine would be covered. He considered the scientific value versus accessibility. The rock was of very limited interest and not unique; could be mapped before inundation. The reservoir would open many interesting sections for recreation by the vast majority, who prefer safety and comfort. (in other words: now that I have mine, the masses can take the bus to whats left.)

July 42, NPS told Reclamation it wanted a dam's high water perhaps 10' below Park boundary, at least. Reclamation was ready to argue, saying no question that economics called for a higher reservoir; it would also be good for recreation. That section could only be reached by boat. NPS needed to make recommendations in order to avoid delay. 

Aug 42, Larson had settled on a higher dam, to 1910' at the upper Gneiss ( to about mile 140), and conferred with NPS about it in September 1942, as part of their cooperative  agreement. But Larson's cost figures were challenged internally, and may be 1825' was optimum. Higher up, the figure of 1850' was being considered as the geological maximum, with a draw-down of 250' to handle the spring flood. In spite of these differences, Reclamation wanted NPS to react, and to withdraw land for a recreation area. The two bureaus made a joint inspection of the damsite, the last 40 miles of the Canyon into which Hoover's reservoir had intruded, and the part of the Park that would be affected. 

GCNP Supt Bryant wrote that the result cannot be without "sad injury to the most scenic portion of the Park". It would be a dangerous precedent; bad enough to allow spoilation of Toroweap with 150' of water, sediment and logs. Havasu junction would be drowned, along with rapids and flats. We should keep the western end, and praises the Havasupai way of life, as yet unspoiled. (Incidentally, Bryant tried to recover the history of why the boundary was along the river.) Director Drury (a new man, from outside NPS) replied that isolation and inaccessibility were not justification for submerging NPS lands, and asked for more information. Bryant came back, describing the meeting of Havasu Creek and Colorado, extolling views from Great Thumb and points above the western end; for him, a place with no development, where primitive values prevail over recreation, etc. Only 105 miles of river are in the Park, and if Bridge and Glen were built, this would be the only primitive river left. This precedent would lead to demand for other dams. We should oppose invasion of Park. Bryant had also written river-runner Norm Nevills who wrote of high, sheer, rich brown sandstone walls. Then he added it was a pity to lose the junction at Havasu, but o.k. if Kanab not reached. Bryant only quoted the walls sentence to Director.

The full NPS report is a densely written 16-page attempt to present a detailed description of what power-dam operations would do --and had done-- to the affected Canyon stretches. Since it is an impressive report, and not to interrupt this narrative, I have summarized it in a separate entry, dated 6/28/10.

Larson, as Reclamation's representative on the inspection trip, had the impression that NPS staff seemed favorably inclined toward acknowledging the worth of a dam to 1919'. He reported that F.E. Olmsted said a law would be needed to back water into or, Olmsted's choice, change the boundary of, the Park.
*When Roosevelt used and extended the Antiquities Act in 1908 in proclaiming the first Grand Canyon National Monument, it was generally understood that development was brought to a halt. Indeed, that was one of the motives for Park legislation, to open the lands back up again.  Something happened between that year and 1932, when Hoover proclaimed the second GCNM. It contained grazing lands, which were continued, and was the well-known site for hydro-power dreams. "Monument" had become a lesser status for protecting NPS lands. Yes, there were scientific and archeological, as well as scenic, values in the Monument, but no one saw them as a bar to development that would destroy them. This lessening in protective shielding continued, so that when the Canyon's fourth Monument, Grand Canyon - Parashant, was proclaimed in 1999, the lands -- under Bureau of Land Management and National Recreation Area administration -- were given no practical change in status. What can be hoped is that degrading and exploitative activities can be damped down and discouraged, and that in good time, appropriate parts of the Monument will be added to GCNP to more fully protect, and present to the public, the extent and variety of the Grand Canyon.

Sources: Reclamation

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