Elson, Roy. Oral History with Senate History project, interviewer: Donald Ritchie
Interview 9 Transcribed, 6 Jul 1990
Central Arizona Project (CAP), pp 183-208 and 210-8
His words, copied from the transcript are in black; my commentary in blue.
Elson was Arizona Senator Carl Hayden’s chief aide in the 1950’s and 60’s.
I have excerpted relevant sections from his recollections. He always gives credit to Hayden, while putting his own actions and role forward as well. His evaluations of others are useful. However, much of what he says only makes sense if the reader is familiar with the 1963-8 CAP history, and there are crucial questions unanswered.
Elson worked closely with Wm. Gookin, engineer for Arizona, and Ch. Reed, a water lawyer. He remembers that in 1963, when Arizona v California was finished, and the way clear for Hayden to pursue congressional CAP authorization, the three worked out strategies for Hayden in an intense session in Phoenix:
But we pretty much outlined a program, which as I look back on it, even with the way the thing changed and everything else, it was pretty much the way it turned out. I know from my standpoint, the politics of it, I think I predicted pretty accurately and
laid out what Carl Hayden pretty much pursued, and what he had explained to me what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to do it. p. 187
Elson believes the CAP effort got started on the wrong foot. Hayden had a clear idea of what he wanted from his effort 15 years before: the aqueduct and Bridge Canyon dam as an integral part to power and pay for it.
We were meeting this afternoon, and he was really pissed off, or irritated with Stewart Udall, because he had come up with saying that Central Arizona had to be part of a regional plan. We all sort of felt that Stewart had sort of forgotten what he was when he was a Congressman and where he came from, and what we had all talked about long before he became Secretary of Interior. I've never seen it in print, or anyone mention this, I'm digressing I guess, the ulterior motive of why Stewart went along with some broader regional concept, even to finally what became what they called the Pacific Southwest Water Plan (PSWP), which contemplated diversions from the Pacific Northwest into California or the Upper Basis, from different water exchanges, a very ambitious project but no engineering studies. It had been in the minds of the dreamers for years. 188
Udall’s position was defensible as being that of someone aware of predicted shortages in the Colorado’s supply. The original PSWP incorporated two power dams in the Grand Canyon to create a basin fund that could be used to help pay for augmenting the river flow, a scheme that, inevitably, included the idea of importing water from the Columbia River. It was, therefore, a package where agreeing to the first step, Arizona getting its water, necessarily led to a grand regional plan encompassing most of the West.
The problem was not in the plan, but in the politics, of Northwestern opposition and power, plus what grew from anti-dam feeling into the environmental movement. Hayden wanted to bring about the past. Udall’s plan was for a particular future. Political reality favored a future too, but a very different one.
Elson’s take on Udall’s actions was also political, in the even narrower sense of current electoral politics.
I felt, and I think Senator Hayden did, though we didn't discuss it much, that Stewart when he became a cabinet member, I think there was an understanding with President Kennedy: "Let's not rock the boat with anything that's going to cause a big problem with California, particularly southern California, at least until after the '64 elections." He didn't want Udall taking sides with his state of Arizona as opposed to California with their big electoral vote and Arizona with its tiny little one. I can't prove that, but it makes a lot of sense to me in retrospect. But it changed a lot of things, and I personally feel that there was something to that, and so did some other people whom I talked to. 188
I caught a lot of hell from everyone when I was carrying out the senator's orders. I became a very, very controversial figure, not only in Arizona but back here among the delegation, in the Senate, in the Upper Basin—I think I got more press in Colorado than I ever received in Arizona over the years.
This was mainly because everyone thought I was manipulating Carl Hayden, that he was getting older—and there's no question that as he grew older he gave me more and more authority, and he trusted me totally. And it put a big burden on me,
because I had really no expertise in all this, other than what I had acquired through practical experience up here in the political field and what I learned as I went along. I used to spend nights reading, and coming over on weekends, and sitting in
the office going over files, and meeting with people, getting educated as I was going along and as everything was coming up. But thanks to the senator and some of these people, I think I really had a good overall feel for what had to be done, what could be done, and where the old man wanted to go—meaning Carl Hayden—and who our
opponents were and how they were going to play the game. 189
Senator Hayden's plan was to move this ahead as a simple project, because he thought he had earned over the years by helping everyone else that there was no reason why now he should not have his project. We did encounter California's opposition, which was mainly masterminded by Northcut Ely. They wanted these guarantees. Then the question of water supply came up. Then the Secretary and the Department of Interior had their own plans for a regional development. This played into the hands of Wayne Aspinall, who was chairman of the House Interior Committee.
Then everyone started questioning the amount of water in the river that could be utilized. We had hearings, the senator forced some hearings even though we didn't even have the Bureau of the Budget report, or a Bureau of Reclamation report
on the feasibility of the project. It should have been all done, they had done the studies, the state had contributed money.
Stewart and the Department for whatever their reason came up with this regional plan, and that delayed things and everyone started exploiting that. Then they came up with this Pacific Southwest Water Plan, with all its ramifications. Of course, this just irritated the hell out of Jackson, who was chairman of the Interior Committee and Maggie (Senator W. Magnuson of Washington) in the Pacific Northwest, because we were going to take their water in this five billion dollar scheme to move all this water down there, which you knew wasn't going to happen. And Carl Hayden looked at that as another delaying tactic. Of course California exploited all that, and the Upper Basin didn't want to see this develop either.
Then came the controversy over the dams, and Stewart and some of the other people were afraid of the environmentalists, led by [David] Brower and the Sierra Club, and the National Park Association, and the Arboretum, and all this, about the Bridge and Marble Canyon dams. We only originally went with the Bridge Canyon because that's all we really needed for that, but then everyone wanted to put in Marble for more cash revenues to develop a development fund. The senator was irritated very much about the so-called environmentalists because he was the father of the Grand Canyon National Park and the Monument. I think I mentioned how he deliberately drew the boundaries of the Monument and also preserved these sites, knowing that someday this would be one of the best dam sites along the Colorado River, particularly Bridge, that it might buy some water into the lower reaches of the Grand Canyon National Park, about twelve miles, and the Park is about a hundred and forty miles from east to west. He had always contemplated that dam, and got irritated at some of the PR-type of actions that were taken particularly by the Sierra Club, who used pictures of the Grand Canyon that weren't even near Bridge Canyon dam to show how it was going to be destroyed. 193-4
This is a point we were never clear about—how invested Hayden was in the dams. On its face, it makes sense; Bridge Canyon was the name of the original legislation Hayden introduced. So we “irritated” him. But what Elson doesnt deal with is that hinge moment in early 1967 when Sec. Udall came out with a no-dam plan, which Hayden then right away adopted and pushed. There MUST have been discussions. What & who convinced Hayden not to keep the dam in his bill?
It was part of the strategy that I put in this memorandum way back, but Carl Hayden shocked everyone when he put in a bill taking away from the Federal Power Commission any authority to grant a license at Marble Canyon Dam. This was early on, back in '63. Well, that really just—Jesus, I never had so many irate calls, and so did the senator, about taking away from his own state the right to pursue their rightful things. 195
The Arizona Power Authority pursued a federal license to build a dam for a decade until Hayden put through this moratorium bill just as the F.P.C. was ready to give its approval.
The senator was really upset that he didn't get a chance to move it along and take his chances. If we had to make compromises to expand it, which we eventually did, into a broader regional bill, or for instance to take on the environmentalists, we never had a chance to fight an early battle. We were sort of convinced, the senator was, that we could have won if we had started out early enough, because they weren't that well organized, though they had been successful up in Echo Park and things like that.
But he felt that he had a lot of Brownie chips that both sides owed him, even from California and the Upper Basin. That's why I give credence to this idea that nothing was supposed to happen until after '64 to begin with, because they had no plans, the Bureau didn't, the Department of Interior. 195
I really didn't trust what was going on. All the senator could see, and I could see, was just further and further delay if we were going to have these studies. And
everyone was trying to blackmail us, from the Upper Basin, it was just a nightmare going on all the time.
Stewart Udall would have Floyd Dominy, who was then head of the Reclamation
Service to go over to see the senator. The senator really liked Floyd Dominy, and thought he was a hell of a commissioner. A big [expletive], womanizer and all that, but he was a hell of a commissioner of Reclamation. But he used to go over and see the senator at Stewart's orders, because they thought I had too much influence on
the senator, to bring him around the other way. Well, what they didn't know was that the next morning Carl Hayden would come in and tell me the whole story. There wasn't a thing that I did during all that time that wasn't with the approval of the senator, or he didn't know about. 197-8
Aspinall (Wayne Aspinall, Representative from western Colorado, House Interior & Insular Affairs Committee Chair) was a tough hombre. He wanted some of his projects eventually included the in the regional plan. But we always found, though I admired his talent and he was always a gentleman, but Northcut Ely—Mike Ely—was really the thorn. We could see his hand, which he of course would deny, but you could spot Mike's stuff all the time. He was going to win that way what he couldn't win in the court. We went through I don't know how many battles, but the senator did trust governor [Edmund] Brown, Senior. We even got into trouble, having discussions with him, with our own delegation. I particularly got into some real difficulties with him, working with two of his people, [Russell] Sprague who was California's representative here in Washington at the time and later became the head of the FDIC, and another person who interestingly the state of Arizona hired, a guy we were working with from California by the name of Wes Steiner. We hired him as our state water engineer after the project was authorized, which I thought very strange. Another guy, who was a classy individual, by the name of Abbott Goldberg, who was one of the assistant state attorneys for California. A gentleman, a man of his word, a very bright guy. The senator trusted him.
He also trusted Governor Brown, but again Brown only had limited room to maneuver too. We had some very good negotiations with him, although we were criticized by our own state and our own people. Actually, I was pulled out of dental appointment once where they ordered me not to even have discussions anymore with Brown. Of course, these were unofficial meetings. As far as Senator Hayden was concerned, they were going to be official if we worked out some things that he could live with. So he really didn't give a damn at that point what the Stream Commission said, or
our own governor or anyone else, at some of these junctures. That's how bad it had gotten. When they pulled me out this one time and ordered me, I said, "Look, I don't give a [expletive] what you say. I'm not working for you. I'm working for Carl
Hayden, and what Carl Hayden wants me to do, I'm going to do." I think I walked out of the goddamned place. Oh, then they took Bill Gookin away from us and sent him home—well, no, I think we prevented him from being taken away, the senator got on the phone, but it was a nasty, tense time.
I should tell a story about Governor Brown when I ran in '64. We had had some negotiations with Governor Brown and his two people. In fact, I think I made a trip to Sacramento with Bill Gookin and one of the senator's other aides that I brought back here, a guy by the name of Ed Davis, who was an attorney and my chief assistant. I remember when we went on that trip to Sacramento, in one of the early negotiations with Governor Brown's people, they had just completed their Natural Resources Building in Sacramento. It must have been nineteen floors. They had three floors of
computers. This was for their state water plan and all the other stuff. They'd come out with all these flow charts and computer print-outs of all the water flows from every dam and reservoir, and we were up there, myself and Ed David, and our water engineer who had a circular slide rule. This was how we were doing our calculations! I looked at that and said, "This is a little overwhelming to say the least." [laughs] 199-200
Then all the pressure started building up for not using the Bridge Canyon or Marble Canyon as the cash register for the project, or the development fund, deferring that. A lot of it was due to the pressures that were building up from the groups that I mentioned, the so-called environmentalists. And what just boggled my mind, outside of using a bunch of phony statistics and propaganda, was their advocating these steam plants as one source on the Navajo Reservation, and then nuclear energy later. Of course, you realize that hydropower is the cleanest, cheapest power, because you can turn those generators off and on and it's not a pollutant.
I remember going to a meeting in Stewart Udall's office where they were seriously talking about abandoning the dams and using this coal-fired plant on the Navajo Reservation, and how it was going to benefit the Indians. I said, "I don't understand. You're supposed to be one the great environmentalists"—there were only three of us
in the office, maybe four, maybe Dominy and Eddy Weinberg who was then with the Department solicitor's office, maybe Orren Beaty, and Secretary Udall, maybe it was a bigger meeting than that, but I just remember saying, "I just do not understand
your position at all as an environmentalist, or any of the other groups, because you're advocating putting a huge steam plant on this reservation that's going to pollute the entire [expletive] southwest. And you're supposedly an environmentalist? And the few jobs that the Navajos are going to get, you know they're going to get screwed with the type of contract you're going to have with them. It's not going to amount to that much. And they're going to be tearing up the countryside, because they're just shoveling the coal with bulldozers, it's lowgrade ore." And sure enough, that's what's
happened. Christ, that's what they're bitching about now. The smoke from that powerplant is corrupting the Grand Canyon, and the whole damn thing. But eventually we had to use that approach, and again the senator was really, really bitter, though he never said too much openly about it, about losing particularly Bridge Canyon dam, and Marble. He already had Glen Canyon on the upper reaches of the Grand Canyon, and you had Hoover down at the lower end, and Bridge was only going to block the waters for a few miles in between. The power that they could have generated, and clean power—if he were alive today I'm sure he'd still be irritated with them. 202
So what he is putatively describing here is a meeting, early 1967, when Udall brought forth the new idea that Reclamation had worked out to pre-pay for pumping power and thus avoid the financial need for the dams. Is this the hinge, where Hayden saw he had to abandon the dam, or was more discussion necessary?
And the point I will always make is that those coal-fired powerplants were already in the planning of the local utilities. All the bad effects he describes would have happened even if the dams had been built because all those thermal plants were on the way, dams or no.
Furthermore, Udall’s initiative placated the Northwest, and Senator Jackson, since the dams were funding weapons, guns pointed at the water of the Columbia. So did Elson not see this? And Hayden not see it? They obviously agreed with the strategy, since Hayden introduced the administration bill, but Elson’s comments imply that they were really sore about losing the dams. If so, why didnt Hayden include them in his bill? Why did he go along with Udall? He could have allied with Aspinall instead? But right away, he used the administration approach. Has to have been to get Jackson on board — or maybe Jackson convinced HIM. If Hayden was so irritated at us, and only us, he would have included the dam.
What the task force and everyone else in the delegation knew back home, as I mentioned in our last interview, I think, was that Eugene Pulliam, who ran those two big newspapers that permeated the entire state by this time, that he really believed, and no one could convince him otherwise, that Carl Hayden was the man who should
call all the shots, and that he knew more about the Colorado River than all of them combined. 203
When we got into '67 and cutting off funds for the Frying Pan-Arkansas, to get Aspinall's attention, or even attaching the entire Central Arizona Project and a small regional plan to the Senate Appropriations bill. And we had done our headcount.
We had the votes and we could have passed that. John Rhodes and the senator and I went to see old Mike Kirwan, I think I mentioned that meeting, during that later period, to set up the stage if we wanted to run it by on the appropriations way. And under the rules, when we were checking out how we would handle that, we could have gotten a vote on the House floor and bypassed the Interior Committee. So as the time got shorter and shorter, he played some very, very tough games. 204-5
But it still bothered him that he had to give up more than he wanted to give up, because he never really had a chance, because of other external politics that didn't
make it possible for him to move it along the way he wanted to move it along. I don't know whether we would have gotten it enacted any faster, but I don't think we would have had to give up as much as we had to give up eventually, because I think all along he knew that some point along the line he might have to take some actions that were out of character for his reputation, the way people knew him. But people tell me who have seen some of those letters that some of them were really tough, [laughs] they were nasty. He would have pulled out all the stops, from the fall of '67 through '68 when his term was over, he was going to cash in every Brownie point he had. I think everyone knew that there were a lot of people who were going to help him do that. Certainly Scoop (Jackson) did. 206
And I tend to agree that had Hayden ignored Udall’s initiative and launched a bill with a dam in it, it would have gone through the Senate, and then even if the House had deleted it in a floor fight, it might have been stuck back in in conference. Which means that the pivotal question is about the relations between Hayden and Jackson, and whether Jackson et al. were really convinced that the dams were aimed at them, as implied by a speech reported 13 Jan 1967 in Wenatchee Daily World, in which he said “that the only way those two dams can help finance that project is by running Northwest water over them”. So too bad that Elson did not “remember” whether/when Hayden and Jackson had a little talk, and came to the mutual conclusion that there would be no dam. Could it just have been Udall telling Elson, and the latter then letting Hayden know what Udall & Co. had cooked up? Was Jackson never actually involved, just taken into account?
Through that period, from the time we got the Supreme Court decision to eventually its enactment and signing at the end of September in '68, I'm pretty proud of the way the senator handled it. He was attacked at home, though no one would really openly attack him very much. He still knew the direction he wanted to go. We were forced to give up more than he certainly wanted to, particularly the dams. 210
“Forced” to give up? But what were the mechanics of that; who said what to whom, when?
You know, he was on the Interior Committee, and when it came time for mark-up, we marked everything up and passed it out for the last time, I was in with him in all the executive sessions. We had our notebooks, and as we were marking it up, out
in the hearing room was some of our task force and attorneys. When we got in a critical situation I'd go out and talk to them about what we were going to do and not do—"anyone have any objections?"—and go back into the mark-up. Again, that was an awkward position, because when you had people around like Clint Anderson, and Tom Kuchel, and Jackson, and all that—but Jackson was really the one who made sure that I was there to help the senator. Where I could almost participate in it, even though there were other staff members in the executive session, but they only responded when they were called on. But I was almost included like one of the senators, which really is, I'm sure you can appreciate it, an awkward position to be in when you know you're just a damn clerk. But I did it. The senator had forgotten more about the damn river than most of the men in that room ever heard. Some of the men on that committee could really be nasty [expletive], particularly Clint Anderson. He could be a mean [expletive], and was. But a smart son-of-a-gun too. I would give
Scoop Jackson great credit for not only going out of his way to look out for the interests of Carl Hayden and Arizona but trying to resolve all the differences and work well with his staff, and some of the people on the committee, and then his personal staff. His office was right around the corner from ours so we were always
meeting in the hallway, and when Scoop would call and say he wanted to come around, the senator would say, "No, I'll come around to your office." The senator was always good at that, he'd go to the other person's office. But Scoop would come around to ours and we'd have these conferences going on, and most of the time I was always included in all those, and so was his AA at the time, a guy by
the name of Sterling Monroe (sic. Munro was a top-notch aide to Jackson). We really worked well together, and they kept up fully apprised of what was going on, and what Stewart Udall, the Secretary, was telling them, and what Anderson was telling them, and what the Upper Basin, [Frank] Moss and some of the others, because you had practically all the western states represented on that committee, both from the Upper and Lower Basin. So I give Jackson very high marks. When the mark-up came, Carl Hayden had some proxies—either the senator had them or Scoop had them—and so poor Tom Kuchel knew he was outvoted. He would rant and rave and say this was unconstitutional, or "I thought this was a democracy." I think that was his theme. The senator said, "Well, that's what we're exercising right now. You're watching democracy at work." As he voted these proxies [laughs]. It was exciting, gee, you couldn't help but be excited about all of it, but it was always tense. Here we were talking about serious, long-range problems. I felt uniquely honored to be there with them and part of all that, watching and participating in it. 211-2
This recollection certainly reinforces the idea that Jackson was pivotal, not peripheral. Did HE talk with Udall? Jackson was, after all, in that period moving in ways that conservationists approved of, building parts of what became American environmental policy. If you accept that Hayden really wanted the dam, then surely we can conclude/hypothesize strongly that Jackson was the one talking with him who took the line that the dams were just not going to happen. So you come back to a Jackson quarterbacking almost, with Udall & Interior as the hinge that Jackson moved to get to a different room.
I can think of at least three times in that period when he threatened. One was the cutting off of funds to the Federal Power Commission if they approved a dam, another was threatening Aspinall. . . .
With Frying Pan-Arkansas.
RITCHIE: And then also threatening Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, with cutting off some funds for northern California water projects. 212
There's no question in my mind had he decided to attach CAP as a simple thing or a part of a minimal regional program on the public works appropriations bill which had passed that he probably could have done it. That's when we had seen Mike Kirwan with John Rhodes and the senator, and I was at that meeting, where if they had had to go to conference and we would have bypassed the House Interior Committee completely. Then we had a strategy, had the conferees not agreed to it, we had a back-up position. He was prepared, and I think we could have not had a public works
appropriations bill that year. 213
This story is also told in a newspaper article that includes Kirwan being talked to, getting the other side, by Denver congressman & friend W.Rogers.
As I say, until we reach some really critical situations, it's probably the last big public works reclamation project that will be enacted. He was very disappointed about losing the Bridge Canyon dam, because over those forty years he had gone to great lengths to make sure that those sites were available, and listened to all those environmentalists and "tree-huggers" that some people call them, I don't. I told you about building the steam plant. It didn't, in my opinion, help the Indians that much.
It's the biggest damn open-pit operation in the country now. And it's polluting everything. Then they wanted us to use nuclear energy, and what a disaster that has been. The one big nuclear plant they do have in Arizona now is a mess. No one
really said there wasn't a need for the Central Arizona Project. After awhile everyone
was saying "Yeah, you ought to have it, but." And that included those who were opposed to the dams. So we had to go along with using the steam plant as the vehicle for financing the thing. As I say, there were a lot of bodies along the way. 214
Well, he got that right — end of the line for the 20th-century Reclamation idea.
And he was right about Hayden’s efforts; he was the one who had put the reclamation clause in the original Park bill— not that that could have had anything to do with Bridge Canyon. And he may well have made his ideas clear about allowing a reservoir in the 1932 Grand Canyon National Monument.
However, his gratuitous remarks about coal and nuclear are off-base and post facto — no hydro resources could have coped with Arizona’s and the Southwest’s needs; thermal was coming anyway, and I doubt he was a leader of the people to insist on it being clean.
Aspinall was a man who worked at his job. He was a chairman, he ran a very good committee, he had some very talented staff people working for him. He knew the subject well. He was a crusty old guy, but I always sort of liked him because he was
a tough hombre too. He spent a lot of time on it. And he had his own home situation to always worry about. I think that until he could line up his things, he didn't want to see the CAP go moving along on its own, or something else with some vague reference to development in the Upper Basin, because some of his projects weren't in order. There were a lot of studies that had to be made, and needed to be put all together and make them ready. I think that was one reason why we could never sit down. Of course, he took pride in his superior knowledge of the river. The way he ran his committee was: the Senate does its thing and we do our thing. They always sort of threw that up in your face. There weren't any of the informal meetings that we should have had, probably, but didn't have. I think he deliberately didn't want to have some of them, so I don't think you can blame it on us for not trying on occasion. Then he was playing all the cards, too, and he distrusted California also. I think those are some of the reasons why it was difficult to get him to move. I'm saying that when the senator said, "I'll go along with certain things if you get the House to report out a bill, then we'll see what happens." That was early on, '64 or '65 somewhere in there.
Then we took other actions. I don't think that Wayne ever thought that the senator would ever do anything like that. But I think he got the message loud and clear, particularly when he threatened to cut off eleven million, or whatever it was, for Frying Pan-Arkansas, which was really something very important to him. And we had the votes. There's no question, had he pursued that that would have been knocked out. That got his attention. But he was a difficult man to work with, and of course you had Floyd Dominy, who was the Commissioner of Reclamation, was telling him one thing. Stewart was telling him another hand. Everyone was always feeding him. But he had a very good staff that filtered out some of this. His chief guy was really very
good. But Aspinall was quite a guy, and he certainly looked out for the Upper Basin.
Without him, there probably wouldn't have been any project, in putting all the pieces together. He certainly deserves great credit. With John Saylor [R-PA] over there sort of mouthing not only the coal interests but the environmental interests, and everyone making an emotional thing. John Saylor was a real character, he was really something else. But Wayne Aspinall was a good chairman. He ran a tight committee, a very tight one [laughs]. 215-6
Talk about ambivalence. “Crusty, tough, knowledgable”, but he sure made Hayden reach for what he wanted.
The senator would also rely on, and had a lot of faith in, Floyd Dominy, though Dominy was put in some awkward positions by the Secretary. Floyd was one of the more agile people on his feet, but he always was helpful to us, and so was his department, a number of people down there that we received some information from.
I found that, too. I relied heavily on a really competent Reclamation staffer named Dan Dreyfus, who had to field my questions, but always provided me the information I sought instead of being misleading or evasive.