Monday, October 11, 2010

Dams, 1949: Marble-Kanab

In June 1945, there was a flurry of publicity from Reclamation's Boulder City (Region 3) office concerning a concept of "gigantic dams, tunnels, power plants and canal systems" for the Colorado River. The story had arisen from feasibility work for bringing river water to the Phoenix area, during which someone had suggested that putting the river in a tunnel in Marble Gorge and sending it to a powerplant in Kanab Creek could generate a lot of electricity. There had been reconnaissance in early 1945, with a visit to the mile 36.5 site finding a sizable fault, but farther downstream there was a site about mile 42. However, in July, the engineers had concluded that even with the sketchy data available, appraisal did not suggest that the Kanab Creek development should receive early consideration. Aug 45, the report on CAP alternatives mentioned Kanab tunnel, but later, reports concluded Marble was inferior, with not as good economics. (From Reclamation reports archive, BC)  (See my 7/2/10 entry.)

In 1948, a check of mile 42.4 in Marble disclosed no conditions precluding construction, though the profile was not ideal. More serious steps began in Apr 1949, looking at access to the river in the mile 29-38 stretch, since river travel would not be feasible until late summer. A trail was considered, and then a tramway overlooking mile 30. April saw an "urgent" request for money to make investigations in Marble/Kanab to tie into power production studies for Glen. BIA and Navajo approval was secured, and DC approved funds in May. So far this was all a quiet assessment, much like other engineers' appraisals over the previous quarter-century.

This all changed on 19 May 1949, when Reclamation issued a notice of initiation of investigation on the Marble-Kanab Project, to wit: To utilize the head of 1260' while avoiding dams in Grand Canyon National Park. Water for the Park would go through a powerhouse at Marble. Plans were needed for a high dam, long tunnel, two powerhouses, river regulation and transmission corridor. Also to determine location, given the difficult terrain, for roads and powerlines. Also to find the power system for the most satisfactory release of water through the Park. (My 10/7/10 entry has a map showing the scheme.)

Apparently, NPS Regional Director Tillotson was the first to see the notice, on 6 June asking DC who would protest. NPS in DC, Wirth and Drury, met with Reclamation Commissioner Straus on 14 June. First, they read out his memo of 22 May 1946 (when Straus was Ass't Sec'y) in which he said no investigation should be started without his written approval after he conferred with NPS. Straus admitted that the 19 May notice was contrary to this order, and that Reclamation had indeed approved funds for a Marble-Kanab investigation. Straus then (would blustered be the right word?) that it should be taken up with the Secretary, in order to assemble facts for determining priorities. Drury replied that the issue was whether the Park should be jeopardized, even if the project was feasible. (I.e., Principle, not "facts", should settle this issue.) Straus admitted that they were about to let a contract to start work boring at damsite, so it was necessary to act at once. An appointment was set with Assistant Sec'y Warne that afternoon, since Straus said work would continue unless he was ordered to withdraw his notice to initiate investigation. The meeting's result was that Warne dictated an order to Straus to cease and desist, which he was to relay to his field offices. During the discussion, Warne took notice of the reclamation provision in the GCNP Act, but said that removing the river from the Park was inconsistent with its primary purpose, and this was not a reclamation project, it was a power dam. 

[Notice again the theme of how the dream of damming for power, wholly legitimate in engineers' eyes, was tangled and tripped up by ideology: public power generation was a contentious issue, and federal generation even most so. But it could be done if in aid of reclamation & flood control (really equalling development of the West). Which meant that the straight-forward economics of power were snared in the twists of boomer-booster dollar-dreams of irrigators and city-builders. One can wonder if the 1920's concept of a Colorado staircase of power dams would have been as vulnerable as Reclamation projects turned out to be.]

The meeting, NPS wrote, had a humorous moment (for them) when NPS read out a 4 Oct 1945 memo (from Straus as Ass't Sec'y) suggesting a joint statement by NPS, Reclamation, and Fish & Wildlife, stating Interior policy against violation of the Park for non-park purposes. It said this was the law and therefore water development officials should be instructed not to waste money on projects in violation of it. Borderline projects should be submitted to the Secretary. Ha Ha on you, Mike Straus. NPS warned itself, though, that the next move was Reclamation going to the Secretary. 

Warne's memo, of the 14th, to Straus stated that it had come to his attention that Reclamation, perhaps through inadvertence, had started investigation of the Marble-Kanab project, to parallel the Grand Canyon. This was not in accord with 1945 and 1946 agreements between NPS and Reclamation. This project should be dropped, and unless you have information to justify infringing Park, you should instruct field offices to desist. I do not consider it appropriate to investigate any water project that involves a National Park without advance clearance by the Secretary. Straus shot back: Without detailed investigation, neither we nor NPS know what the effects will be. This action is ostrich-like, putting a premium on ignorance. Straus opined that the reclamation provision meant that Congress wanted the Secretary to gather facts. However, we have suspended investigations as you ordered, and will not resume them. Warne wrote a note on the memo that he would not revise order; there were ample opportunities for hydropower without infringing on National Parks. The investigation was started without any determination by the Secretary. So, adieu. 

Straus, on the 14th, had the order teletyped to the field: "You are hereby directed to cease immediately any investigations under way or contemplated on the Marble Canyon-Kanab Creek Project and to not start these investigations or program them in any program whatsoever" [you expect a . ? Nope, the sentence goes on:] "until the departmental order is rescinded". In a follow-up letter, Straus was "indeed sorry to be forced to abandon this investigation". He enclosed copies of the relevant memoes, saying "under any interpretation, these instructions constitute a fiat to cease and desist". So, "a premium is put on ignorance". Reply from regional office asked if Marble alone can be studied for its 300' of head; crew ready. Cannot we proceed "pending Kanab decision?"

Straus went to Secretary Krug on 23 June. "An extensive variety of orders, discussions, and memoranda… have been issued stipulating all manner of procedures intended to void or diminish conflict between secretarial functions" of NPS and Reclamation. We seek to assist Secretary in these conflicting policies, so here is a list of projects for clearance, "to avoid any transgression…or repetition of the Marble-Kanab debacle, which in my opinion, certainly wil result in future embarrassment to the Department." He included a 2-½ page list, including Echo Park. On Marble, he says Reclamation must send a crew right away because river conditions are favorable, otherwise we will lose trained drill crew. Answer early since program is impaired. [Boy, was he pissed!]

Tillotson took the opportunity to tease Reclamation by noting that it would not now be necessary for him to warn other agencies of your investigation. GCNP Sup't Bryant offered his support: robbed of its water, the Canyon would be dry, and its interpretation would be infinitely more difficult, since the river is the most significant part of the erosive story at its muddiest and most unnavigable. Hundreds of millions in the future would be deprived. Babe Ruth and no bat; Man With A Hoe, but no hoe. It would be a hulk, a shell, waxworks. So [he had to go on] we should press for Glen first as flood control and silt storage, then Marble could have its full development. Tillotson replied that Bryant should gather material for making an anti-Kanab movie, and remember that order was only for Kanab, not Marble dam. There were other purplish contributions: "the voice of the mighty Colorado signing its song of Time and Power" would be stilled, and so on. At this time, when Reclamation had gained everybody's approval to invade the western end of the Park, the Kanab victory must have made NPS giddy. However, 30 years later, I had the chance to interview Newton Drury. He had no memories whatsoever of the Kanab incident. 

The Park was receiving reports from river runners of work on the trail to the Marble damsite. In July, Warne reassured Straus and Drury that work on Marble could continue, so go ahead on cableway. Only Kanab was out of bounds; dont touch the Park. Marble may well be needed soon, and can be built without any connection to the tunnel now or later. This caused a memo war, with Drury wanting reassurance that Marble was not a foot in the door, since Straus was trying to engineer the record so there would be no impediment to a Kanab study, by  making a distinction between a tunnel study and what would happen if the river were diverted into it. Also, there was a complaint from Nevada Senator McCarran wanting Kanab to be studied, which made NPS very suspicious: "difficult (but not very) to conceive how the Senator should suddenly become so concerned and well-informed about these ... projects".

In August, Warne reported to Krug that he had visited the damsites with Straus, who has an aggressive program. Needs cry out for storage, irrigation, river regulation, silt control, and power. Bridge and Glen are well advanced in planning; Marble now going on, and I have recommended delay for Kanab since there will be much opposition. Straus, however, to Drury was still hostile, saying NPS views conflicted with water policy and reclamation provision. We need facts before abandoning Kanab, not to play ostrich. We can only tell whether diversion is feasible after investigation. [This, of course, is a standard argument. The one side knows it doesnt like murder; the other says that investigation will just cut up the body some.] Drury's reply was that the difference was between a small effect from Marble alone, and diversion of the entire river. And btw, he was working on clearance of Reclamation's list of 100 projects. Marble would be run of the river, so, NPS said, Marble dam by itself would not change the river regime. [Their imagination did not run to a peaking power plant releasing clear water in diurnal surges.] Drury to Straus on 11 Aug that if you are not reconciled, we should have it out before Secretary. We have not gone outside Department on this, adding to embarrassment of Reclamation and Department. Tillotson, now ever the ameliorator, defended Straus to Drury, and told Bryant to keep quiet.

At the end of August, the Secretary was emphatic, Krug replying to McCarran that it was "not necessary, desirable, nor in the public interest to alter this department's conclusion that the Kanab Creek Diversion is abandoned".

Nevertheless, zombie-like, Kanab kept lumbering across the landscape looking for someone to love it. In April 1950, Tillotson reported an argument with Reclamation staff over whether it had been abandoned or only temporarily deferred. Then, years later...

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