Monday, August 2, 2010

Dams: GCNP: With friends like these... Plus a digression to the central issue (revised 8/13, added to 10/7/10)

This title is a trifle extreme. The records I have been writing from and dealing with make most logical a story of a progress --not always made steadily-- by dam-builders pressing toward authorization of their preferred dam-- site, height, capacity. In that frame, the stance of the Park Service and non-governmental Canyon proectors then seems restricted to a reactive one. Without an overall vision of the Canyon (or of the entire Colorado Plateau) to promote, their positions and arguments too easily sounded only like peripheral objections, based on the narrower stand of keeping hydropower out of Park System units. 

I bring this up in an introductory way since I am about to deal here with an episode I do not like, in which the Sierra Club (and any and all other conservation groups) approved of Bridge Canyon dam with conditions. We have already seen Park Service staff expressing a range of anti-dam fervor. The Club amplified this in a way that makes it easy to cast the story as one of compromise, or worse, being gulled. The problem for me is that I am not comfortable assessing the strength of the outsiders around 1950. The more defining battle, centered on keeping Echo Park dam out of Dinosaur National Monument, is just ahead in the early 1950's (though not part of my story). However, if in 1949 none of those who questioned Reclamation really mattered to the success of the authorization effort, then what I am about to relate is only an intramural affair among Park advocates, a marginal affair; a side-lining.

In Mar 1948, Director Drury stated the NPS position to the Secretary as if there had never been the extensive back and forth with Reclamation that I have described in earlier entries.  Now that you are considering the CAP for real, Drury wrote to his boss, here are fundamental issues: A 1876' high Bridge would dissect the Monument and back 18 miles into Park. For NPS to concur in this would be inconsistent with our duty. A high-level Interior meeting in April approved 1877', but your Interior Advisory Committee on Conservation passed a resolution deploring the dam, regretting that the project had gone beyond the point where it could be reconsidered. We strongly urge there be no further intrusions in or around the GCNP landscape. 

In June Drury wrote Sierra Club Secretary Leonard (at that time, there was no activist conservation staff) that NPS was not in favor of any dam, but the 1919 act allowed it and the Interior Secretary had approved Bridge; Drury thought it inevitable. Leonard replied that Bestor Robinson --on the Advisory Committee and the Club Board-- was reconciled to a dam, but the rest of Board were opposed. In reply Drury, said the NPS position was like that of Robinson. Drury then asked his deputy Wirth to get up a summary to guide outsiders in determining how aggressive they should be. Drury said NPS's new stand would be to concentrate efforts against the Kanab tunnel project. That month, the Sierra Club asserted a high dam would be controversial, noting however that the outsiders' platform was the Interior Advisory Board, which was split. 

Aug 48, Drury sent Leonard the big fancy Colorado River basin report developed by Reclamation, pointing out the Kanab project as well as Bridge. 

Oct 48, Robinson prepared an assessment of the situation, based on his contacts with important people, some political, and his own visits to the Canyon. In an 8-page document worthy of his lawyerly status, he offered "Suggestions for Coordinating Grand Canyon National Park and Monument into the Overall Plans for the Colorado River", signing it as a member of Dep't of Interior Advisory Committee on Conservation. He referred to the "compehensive, tentative" plan of July 1947 on the river. He depicted the impacts as described in NPS reports by Olmsted and McKee. His strong point was that dams in Glen Canyon and on the Little Colorado (Coconino site) would be needed to regulate the river flow and remove the silt for Bridge to achieve its maximum potential. He described the Kanab project and its effect of reducing the river flow through the Park to 1000 cfs. He summarized Bridge reservoir's intrusion through the Monument and into the National Park. Based on these plans, Robinson concluded that the natural flow of the river could not be maintained, since in that scenario, the economic loss would be staggering. 

He quoted at length Olmsted's negative view of river in its natural springtime flood. He pointed out that Kanab would apparently not be economically feasible in the foreseeable future, and asserted that the river is an essential part of the natural spectacle the Park was established to conserve, so Kanab's lack of feasibility was fortunate.

Robinson then characterized the Park boundary in the Bridge reservoir area as a conglomerate, laid on one river side, and abutting National Forest and the Monument. Scenically, that area was not equal to the magnificent spectacle to the east, and was seldom visited. There would be no flooding of outstandingly significant features by the reservoir, and no change in the view from the rim. However, the intrusion into the Park would be a dangerous precedent. (It is a common feature of these assessments to accept the 1933 opinion by then NPS Director Albright that the Monument would be no legal or other hindrance to Bridge, though the basis for that opinion was no longer valid. See my 5/31/10 entry.)

Robinson then posed two courses of action: build Bridge either before or after the silt traps at Glen and Coconino. He argued, and at that time it was pertinent since Reclamation did intend to build Bridge before Glen, that the first course was scenically and economically unsound. However, if the silt traps were put in, then Bridge would last 1000 years. Its reservoir would be stabilized at a high level, providing better energy production. That is, it would be a complete reversal of the result with no silt traps. Moreover, visitors would be able to see the Canyon in a way other than from the rim. I quote: "Although a boat trip the length of the reservoir cannot be considered a full substitute for running the rapids of the Grand Canyon, it will afford a somewhat comparable experience." He further enthused that the situation after Bridge was built would resemble that created by the dams formed by lava flows eons earlier,-- a geological restoration, Robinson suggested, similar to archeologists' rebuilding a ruin for visitors' edification.

Impressed by the gorge upstream from the Park, Robinson talked of adding Vaseys Paradise and Redwall Cavern, as compensation for what Bridge reservoir would inundate. If the Navajo agree, Blue springs could be added. He judged the western park boundary as hard to comprehend. Putting it in the center of river was questionable. (Now there are two points I could agree with.)

Robinson offered his tentative conclusions as a basis for discussion: There could be no objection to upstream dams e.g. Glen. The Kanab diversion should be disapproved. Bridge should be built after Glen/Coconino. Study and adjust the Park boundaries (i.e., cut out area affected by Bridge and reservoir), and include that part of the Monument unaffected by Bridge. Then remove secretarial authority to order reclamation project in the GCNP Act. (Given Congressional control of the money, such authority was a dead horse.)

The document was daunting; long, dense, full of argument and references to expertise of others and Robinson's own experiences. So far I have found nothing to match it on the side of Canyon preservation; McKee's internal NPS evaluation of impacts comes closest (see my 6/30/10 entry). The Park's history, as I have tried to present it, fit Robinson's presentation, concentrated as it had been on the "big hole" view of that original expert, J. W. Powell. There simply was no articulated philosophy for the Grand Canyon in its entirety. Conservationists would need to go through the upper Basin fight (defending successfully a National Monument from dams while coming too late to see that the unrecognized Glen Canyon was an immense loss for the nation), before coming to understand in the 1960's that A Place (like Glen or the Grand Canyon or the Colorado Plateau or Alaska) not a Park was what needed defending.

However, even given the narrow vision of the 1940's, it becomes hard right away to see Robinson as a defender of the Canyon. His basic view accepted that preservation of the Colorado's variability was not practicable, and that a prohibition on all dams would be economically staggering. The river's annual flood looked rather horrible and not too natural. A regulated river would be more pleasing. He easily judged the section affected by Bridge was seldom visited, and not unique or even similar to the main Canyon. He saw only that a dangerous precedent would be set. He made several arguments against building Bridge before there were upstream dams to retain the silt, but nothing substantial against Bridge itself. He even argued the benefits accruing from Bridge if silt retention dams were built first: The conditions of lava flow blockage would be reproduced, and recreation could flourish. He then assessed sections of the Canyon and disposing of some, offered new boundaries for discussion. 

Digression into the future
In 1974, after the dam fight was finally over, Robinson assessed his 1948 position, claiming a leader's role in figuring out how to defeat the worse threat --a tunnel from Marble to Kanab that would divert water around the Park--while accepting a Bridge dam doing "minimum" damage. He wanted the "proper tactical", not the "beautiful theoretical", approach. He therefore fathered the Club resolution to build Bridge if silt retention dams came first. His 1974 claim was that this would have hurt Bridge economics because of the way Reclamation projects had to reimburse their costs. (He underestimated the returns from power.)  In 1948 that was the correct tactical move which "purists" objected to, and referred to David Brower (but see below for what really happened). He then claimed that the delay of the dam fight from 1950 to the 1960's made Bridge's economics so doubtful it was abandoned. That assertion is simply not true. What defeated the dam(s) was that pro-Canyon advocates made Canyon preservation an issue and pointed out that dam super-economics endangered regional interests outside the Colorado basin.

Well, I am trying to be delicate here, and not damage Robinson's thin tissue.  However, his oral-historical memories were garbled; his pleasure at his own role as a leader in 1974 of the anti-purists was dauntingly large; his put-downs of "less scenic" parts of the Canyon were an echo of Reclamation propaganda. It all makes my stomach ache. His final statement: "This was a question of tactical maneuvering as against the purist position. This division crops up time and time again." 

Brower also got to answer Robinson. In Jan 59 (after the Dinosaur NM fight), Brower wrote Robinson on his perhaps too-dependable role as devil's advocate. (There is a draft in the Club archives with Brower's hand-written corrections all over it, and what looks like a list of past Robinson anti-conservation actions; though that conclusion is a mite tentative. Brower often came off with a certain light touch, using civilized wit; he was, make no mistake, a fierce and determined arguer.) 

Then in Feb 1963 Brower wrote to Robinson when the latter questioned defending Marble Gorge from a dam. Brower charged: You advocated dams at Bridge, Glen, and Split Mountain; you thought them "inevitable" and wanted to get good things if we did not oppose them. That is not the way to preserve scenic resources. The Club needs to stick with the existing policy "painfully hammered out subsequent to the Board's first having tried your Bridge Canyon compromise plan, and subsequently abandoning it, in favor of the broad course charted by Alex Hildebrand* and voted at the January 1957 meeting of the Board. On the basis of this policy, Brower wrote, we are opposed to the loss of Marble Canyon, one of the last of the scenically important unspoiled stretches of the Colorado. The only reasonable chance to save Marble Canyon is to support the intervention against Arizona's application to dam it, and then to insist, as part of comprehensive river planning, that Marble Canyon be preserved. We know this makes economic, hydrological, and scenic sense, and it is up to the Sierra Club to join with the other conservation organizations in proving it."
   * AH had compared hydro and steam power economics in Mar 1955 before the House
     Interior Committee.

Jul 57, Brower amplified what the Board had decided (again, I have not looked at the Club Board archives). The Club opposed itself to the sacrifice of scenic resources for the production of power. Brower extended that by saying, we should apply to the lower basin what we applied to the upper. [Im thinking the Board position only referred to a park or monument, and was specifically linked to the upper Colorado basin fight. This must come up again the the 1960's as the final fight over dams in the Grand Canyon heats way up.]

This was, is, not a squabble. This was, is, a vital clash over visions of the Canyon's future. Not just over the scenery; it was a clash over the Canyon as world environmental icon, sending sparks from our differing dreams of the Canyon's future. 
It also puts squarely before us the question of what is the job of an organization like the Sierra Club. I argue (and say it was true in 1948-9) that the Club has validity only as an advocate for conservation/environmental causes. No matter how unworldly or extreme, defense of a "place" like the Canyon or wild lands or Alaska or Mars, is a comprehensible, worthy act for some of us to commit. Others will argue for development or exploitation or selfish despoilation; thats their role. Still others will, when pressed, use their authority to find a compromise. Robinson was wrong in many ways; not least was that he failed to see what the Club's true role was, and so he compromised the Club's integrity as well as trying to damage the Canyon. 
End of digression

The Robinson document was sent to Park friends in Autumn 1948. In November, Drury praised it as clear, comprehensive, and sound. He circulated it internally for comment, himself only questioning whether the boundary changes made sense. Wirth thought the memo sound, and NPS should avoid getting into a dog fight on Bridge, though let conservation groups continue to howl. GCNP Sup't Bryant replied he had "always" thought it a mistake not to oppose any dam height that would put water in the Park. He then, strangely, doubted that Vaseys Paradise, Redwall Cavern, and Blue Springs were of significance, but that it would be nice to add more river gorge to the Park downstream. Regional Director Tillotson in Jan 1949 wrote that ultimately we will have to give in, so lets concede gracefully, then we could fight harder where "park values are greater", and "stand absolutely pat". He recalled that as Sup't he advocated a Monument for the lava flow features in 1932 since it was preferable to flood a Monument. (I wonder if, when I write about that Monument, we will find that in the records.) In summing this all up for another Club member, Drury essentially conceded the height argument to Reclamation, while emphasizing opposition to the Kanab tunnel. Nevertheless in Feb 1949, Drury complained to the Secretary about not being allowed to comment on Reclamation's report on Bridge. The Secretary's reply conceded nothing. Another outside group, the National Parks Association, said it would endorse Bridge only if there were no substantial effect on GCNP, and Drury prompted them on the too-high heights. 

Mar 1949, Robinson wrote the two Senators from California that he was in the middle of the conservationists'  discussion, but that the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Conservation had approved his views, which included the desirability of building Bridge to its maximum economic height of 2000'. He thought the recreation features would thus be greatly enhanced with minimum additional damage. Also, Reclamation had convinced him there would be "greater utilization of power resources". He proposed a development like Phantom Ranch at Tapeats Creek. His scenario for the Canyon was a division into economic development and scenic preservation:  179 miles with a 1330' drop for the first, and 100 miles and 885' drop for the second. This "seems not unfair". Marble, Glen, and Coconino dams would be authorized, then a 2000' Bridge. (This kind of action could easily feed Arizona's hyper-sensitivity about Californian hostility; in that view, the Club was just another mouthpiece for keeping the Colorado from Arizona.)

Drury commented to the Secretary that he was surprised at this letter. Your advisory committee acted before we could tell you we oppose such a height because there would be a great deal more damage. To Robinson, Drury wrote that a 2000' Bridge adversely affecting Kanab is denied by Reclamation. Development for tourists should be for park purposes, not as an adjunct to power projects. Majority of conservation groups oppose your idea. Drury in May toughened his stand, internally, against any dam backing up beyond Havasu. To Robinson, he was sharp:  my concern is GCNP welfare; not the dams' advantages. In his opinion, the first Monument did a better job of limiting dams; too bad the boundaries were reduced due to stockmen's fears. Robinson replied that he and Drury disagreed as to whether my proposed height would make Kanab tunnel even less likely. 

The debate continued. In May, Frederick Olmsted memoed to Drury, emphasizing the "one supremely significant stretch" (of the Canyon) as the basis for everything (worth preserving in the Park). There have been thoroughly vetted concessions, yes. But the economically valuable raising of dam might be rejected if people are unwilling to compromise. Would it not be more reasonable to reconsider the "hastily chosen" original boundary? Although it is true that to prevent a progressive deterioration of values would mean no change. In this case, approval seems o.k. because the reservoir would be in deep narrow section if the height is 1887-1915'.

In Sep 49, Club Secretary Leonard asked Interior Secretary Krug for maps and information on the impacts of various heights. Robinson was to attend the Advisory Committee on Oct 3-4 to discuss the Bridge problem thoroughly and obtain additional facts so we can reach a decision. (A special meeting of the Sierra Club Board of Directors was set for Nov 12; item 6 on the agenda was Bridge.) The Club had approved in general of Robinson's ideas, but Reclamation may be changing, Leonard wrote. Oct 49, Krug replied that 1877' had been set for Bridge's height.

Olmsted had been brought back into the discussion. He indicated he had some differences with Robinson, but they could be cleared up. He tried to reach Robinson, but was unsuccessful, so he wrote to Leonard, 4 Nov 1949, on the effects if  Bridge built to 1877. He then continues his line that it would be an invasion, but not a really, really bad one. 

The Sierra Club Bulletin in Dec 1949 summarized the special Board meeting. Robinson  reported on the October Interior Advisory Committee on Conservation meeting that had recommended Robinson's position for a maximum of 2000' for Bridge and "consolidating" the Park and Monument "after modifying" the boundaries. (It would be nice to know if the 1948-9 Robinson knew what the 1974 Robinson said he knew: This was all part of his plot to get a Bridge, that would require a Glen, that would stop everything.) They also heard a letter from Secretary Krug limiting Bridge to 1877' and disapproving the Kanab tunnel project. "After thorough discussion", unfortunately not reported, the Board resolved:

Bridge will submerge portions of GCNP and NM;
If economically sound, Bridge should be built, but only after Glen is, to hold the silt;
Once this reclamation project is authorized, the GCNP Act should have the provision authorizing reclamation projects removed;
Add GCNM to NP, and adjust that boundary to exclude Bridge reservoir while adding land upstream in Marble Canyon to compensate for the loss below Tapeats, while allowing for Marble Canyon dam;
Keep the reservoir definitely below Tapeats. Definitely. This would avoid "interior penetration" of GCNP, while allowing a "narrow marginal flooding of boundary areas" that would anyway then be removed from GNCP;
Recognize the scenic and recreational values of the reservoir by maintaining its level. 

Subject to these "qualifications", the Club resolved in favor of Bridge Canyon dam's construction.

Brower, as editor of the Club "Bulletin" was preparing the Board action for publication, and wrote to Robinson that no Board member had objected, so he would get it in print. "I think you have stated the case exceedingly well. I do not see how anyone could boil so complicated a matter into so few words." 
This result was circulated and praised, with no dissent or qualification indicated in the records (so far). It was sent to Secretary Krug with a recommendation to introduce appropriate legislation. Internally at Interior, Straus was nailing down NPS at 1877'--with leeway for construction needs.

Jan 1950, Robinson followed up on Olmsted's comments, re-arguing for his points, citing his talks with experts. He disagreed about the stretch that is the irreducible limit. The almost unanimous opinion I have found among those who have gone down by boat is that the finest 100-mile stretch is between Vasey's and Tapeats. [And that's that!] Then the scenery degrades. I disagree that anything above 1887' would be visible. So shouldnt boundary be re-drawn? Shouldnt reclamation provision be taken from GCNP Act? Shouldnt Glen be built first?
Drury's reply to Leonard is a rebuke. He regrets that Robinson and the Club are going all out for a higher dam. He was disappointed at the Club resolution. As he had told the Club Board (Bestor absent) in mid-1949, Olmsted was convincing about 1772' height, but Secretary over-ruled that position. That the Club would now approve of a reservoir going 30 miles into the Park is a shock. We in administration may have to be reconciled to less than ideal, but conservation societies are under no such necessity. This greatly weakens our defense and confuses allies. It is a dangerous program to change boundaries to accommodate reservoirs. It would be desirable to add Kanab wall on north to prevent any future extension of Bridge (This may be the first, or an early, description of the lower Kanab addition that was part of the 1975 boundary changes.)

Olmsted's Feb 1950 reply to Robinson is more detailed and technical, a point-by-point refutation, indicating how upset NPS must have been at the "shock" delivered by the Robinson-led Board.
He did agree on a Park running from Vaseys to Havasu, but objected to diminution of NM. He said it was not the time to drop the reclamation provision, nor is the time for the upstream dams you are promoting. You are mistaken about siltation in reservoir. Your 2000' dam is not the point; Reclamation is at 1877'.  You say having reservoir in scenic stretch is better; I say it is calamitous. There will be silt accumulation. Your rather contemptuouis appraisal of river running in that stretch is contradicted by others, including by NPS staff and Nevills. Robinson's further reply in March starts out placatory, then says that Kanab "is not, in my humble opinion, defensible". Majority agree stretch near Havasu trumps the Kanab area. Anyway, it is at end of Kanab tunnel project: "Did nature in her wisdom terminate superlative portion at the exact spot selected for power-house?" "Should we lie supinely on our backs hugging delusive phantom of hope until the enemy has bound us hand and foot?", he quotes Patrick Henry, or should we vigorously attack to get worthy section preserved? Robinson mimeoed this letter and circulated it.

This wrapped up the Club's sorry participation in the first fight over Bridge. Its attention through 1956 would center on successfully defending Dinosaur National Monument, a battle from which it would draw lessons (see above) strengthening its resolve to work for policies that protected places, not names.

Sources: NPS DC archives
Sierra Club archives in Bancroft Library, U of C Berkeley,  BANC MSS 2002 230C, Executive Director's files on correspondence and issues dealing with Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I have not seen the Board of Director's archives that might contain details of who said what at the Nov 1949 meeting.)

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