Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dams: Arizona Trying, for real, 1938-40's

The Arizona Colorado River Commission (CRC) had some sort of convulsion in 1937-8, possibly tied to state politics, or just water matters. In any case, there was a personnel shake-up, and the Colter Marble-Verde highline scheme was junked. D.C. Scott, an engineer and CRC member, described in Aug 1938 how the CRC settled on Bridge Canyon dam. writing that although there had been lots of talk, no definite field work had been done. So, with a geologist, he paid a visit, and found a "wonderful" damsite. His view might have included this:

The view is upstream, and still there. (Photo by Miles O'Kelly, Jan 2010)

We, Scott continued, did preliminary geology on faults. We decided to protect this asset for Arizona. A technical report was prepared for a 573' dam to 1773' with a 78-mile reservoir to Havasu Canyon. Power would be used for the mines and electrifying railroads. Since CRC doesnt have authority to build such a dam, we got the State Land Commissioner to file an application, # 1503, with the FPC in July. We have asked for funds to do the preliminary engineering work of drilling, testing materials, and surveying, as FPC requires. Noting that Arizona could not use all the power (not even 25%), he hoped to cooperate with California; the market will surely develop. H. Scattergood, head of LADWP, noted internally that the plan was definitely premature and would be detrimental to selling all of Boulder dam's power. If no understandings are reached, and Arizona gets a permit, it will have a non-negotiable property right. However, Interior had objected; Reclamation and NPS both favor a federal dam. Also, the Monument could not have an FPC-authorized reservoir under the revised (1935) federal power law. Nevertheless, LADWP thought it made sense to work with the CRC, rather than just be in opposition. 

There were rumblings from some Arizonans that it was a bad project since, by abandoning the highline concept first mentioned by La Rue, there would be no irrigation diversion. Scott realized he would have to convince Arizonans it should only be a power dam. The Committee of 14, a Basin States group, asked the FPC to postpone any action, although Nevada, worried about electricity oversupply, did not want to outright oppose Arizona's application, which may be intended only to secure the rights, not build right away. The 14 asked for 6 months hold while Arizona continued studies. The preference was to avoid a fight. 

An Apr 1939 trip to the site included the FPC and Los Angeles DWP. LA power staff commented on a 573' dam, emphasizing the need to quickly build a silt trap at Glen. There could be excellent coordination with downstream power dams, and water in the Monument would greatly add to its attractiveness. LADWP still worried there would be adverse impact on market for Boulder power. Scattergood therefore counseled Arizona to go slowly and quietly. However, LA also did not want Reclamation to build and control at the site. The FPC staff completed its report in May 1940. Here is a schematic from the report looking from the north, river right, off toward Peach Springs:

The dam is the little wedge in the center bottom, intakes & spillway just behind its top, and the riverside power plant at its foot. The slant line off to the left is an "auto road" to Peach Springs, and coming down the left side of the canyon wall, through tunnels, is an inclined railway. The power line towers climb the wall to the switching station at the very top. An industrial site, indeed. Ah, but then the artists got ahold of it, and here is their vision:

The view is from river left across the nice, clean dam to the north, to about the same elevation as the schematic. Notice there is no mess and machinery here. An immaculate conception of a dam, no doubt built somewhere else and put in place by helicopter, untouched by human hands. Of course, the purpose of such views is to show how little the reservoir was, compared to the Canyon, as if having your house with "only" a foot of water on the floor is just fine. 

The 14 kept requesting postponement, as meetings and discussions with Arizona continued into 1941. In June 1941, FPC said that any license would have to accord with Compact, so it did not matter whether Arizona had ratified. Scott was no longer on the CRC by summer 1941. In August, the FPC set a hearing for September to look at whether Arizona had the law on its side and whether in fact it could build such a project. The Basin states asked again for a delay, trying to avoid dissension; there were many technical & legal reasons why it should and could not be built by Arizona, but FPC action would be disruptive. The CRC answered that we are building a foundation for it, e.g., Governor Osborn had received a copy on the power needs of the mines. Nevada said it wanted some of the power. LA remained worried that a hearing could jeopardize state interests. It had also heard that Reclamation had built a barge and was preparing to physically investigate the site.

War's declaration in the midst of continued maneuvering led to Arizona withdrawing its application on 22 Dec to avoid stress on the nation's resources in the current emergency. The FPC indefinitely postponed any action in 1942, but was described in 1943 as very thoroughly studying the Bridge project.

But then, so was the Bureau of Reclamation, and with end of World War II, the furniture would be thoroughly re-set for the next act. With a federal dam, Arizona and California would play a secondary role, which rankled, given the extensive work by the states, summarized in Aug 1943 as Scattergood reviewed for the LADWP board its Grand Canyon involvement: 
Looked at Glen, 1921; trip to Diamond, Spencer & Bridge, 1925; early studies, 1926-7; Bridge & Diamond trip, 1927; trips & studies, 1939-41, in cooperation with Arizona and FPC; met with Arizona governor, Osborn, Nov 1941. In 1942, we looked over preliminary work by Reclamation. FPC did confidential Arizona market survey, and gave Scattergood a copy. We, and SoCalEdison, will need this power in five years, so must pursue it vigorously. Conflicts may arise if we ignore Bridge, so we and SCE need to work together. Met with Osborn again about Arizona power authority, a new body contemplated to carry Arizona's dam claims into future frays.

*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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