Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dams: Head in the Stars; a summary

The entries so far (April-November, 2010) have covered a half-century of dreams and investigations focussed on the Grand Canyon as hydropower generator. From the initial withdrawals and applications before the new Federal Power Commission in the 1910's, there had been a story of lunge, study, argument, and hold-up. 

The initial studies and surveys provided substance for the dream of a dozen or two dams turning the Colorado into a giant staircase. That dream was cramped a tad by those who had another vision, of a Grand Canyon National park celebrating at least a piece of unfettered Colorado River. More serious, efforts like those of Girand in the 1920's were blocked when California's needs were given primacy by the Boulder Canyon Project. Arizona then flailed about during the Depression, and just when it seemed to be a serious contender for the fine Bridge Canyon site, World War II intervened. This gave Reclamation the chance to wake up and get cracking on investigations. 

Reclamation's deliberations, however, were entangled in the demands from Arizona for projects to get its share of the Colorado to central Arizona, preferably through tunnels from dams at Bridge or in Marble Canyon. Even though Reclamation finally settled on a water scheme that did not physically involve the Grand Canyon, all parties had become stuck in the tar-baby idea that the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and Bridge Canyon dam were inextricably linked. When the former was put on hold by Congress in the early 1950's, so too was the latter. 

The hold on Bridge, and the 1940's expansion of Reclamation's dreams for the Colorado River Basin, gave that agency the chance to carry through an investigation of a Marble Canyon dam near Redwall Cavern. It was also ready to try to look hard at a 25-year-old idea as an alternative to the staircase, the Marble-Kanab tunnel. There had been a debate in the 1940's over how high Bridge could be, but the time was not ripe for a definitive confrontation. Nor did the 1932 establishment of a second Grand Canyon National Monument affect that debate; a Reclamation dam was assumed to have priority. The tunnel was not so immune; even in 1949, it seemed too egregious an insult to our National Park ideal, and a much too weighty an injury to the Grand Canyon. So Kanab was quashed; Marble studies went ahead, and Bridge awaited the revival of the CAP. 

When, chomping at the bit in the mid-1950's, Arizona tried to figure out how it could build its water project itself, it thought of Bridge first. However, although Reclamation could ignore the Monument and stiff the Park System on its "small invasion" of the Park, any FPC-authorized dam builder would have to be content with a low Bridge. That turned out to be irrelevant, however, as the ensuing noisy tug-of-war with Los Angeles over the Bridge site ended up deeding it to Reclamation, a common sense (for dam-builders) solution the hurt of which for Arizona was eased by its near-succesful run at an FPC-licensed Marble Canyon dam, a run notable for the red flag raised among Park advocates by seeing the bogeyman of Kanab waved about. I should say,  "the now more experienced" Park advocates, since the 1950's had seen a tremendous increase in their determination and sophistication as a result of their success in defending Dinosaur National Monument from dams, and discovering what had been lost in the undesignated Glen Canyon. 

The Arizona Marble effort ended in 1964. Those who thought of the Colorado in Arizona as Arizona property were shouldered aside. Those who believed in a federal, Reclamation, project for Arizona dominated the action. All efforts were to be concentrated on the CAP built by Reclamation, and on the Grand Canyon dams in Reclamation's portfolio. The time had come to authorize the Central Arizona Project, and its backers assumed, to dam the Grand Canyon to help pay for it. 

And there I leave it for now. Even though 1965-8 is the scene for the greatest of conservation, Grand Canyon, victories over the exploiters, and even though those are the years of my involvement, I am tired of the dam builders. The stage is set for their megalomania and hubris to bring an end to their dreams for the Canyon. Lets let them stew for a while, and re-join those who dreamt of a grander Grand Canyon National Park.

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