DUMPING THE DAMS; 1966-8
One Story The Newspapers Tell
Fifty years ago, 30 September 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation that gave Arizona its big Central Arizona Project (CAP) waterworks, while firmly protecting the Grand Canyon by rejecting the idea of ever approving construction in it of two huge concrete dams.
In three dozen recent posts, I have summarized, as written about in the public press, the climax years for Congressional action on a complex of Colorado River Basin projects and policies that included the Central Arizona Project, the future of the Grand Canyon, and associated items that wrapped up a half century of Basin law-making and project-building.
Reading through the media summaries, more than one narrative will be evident; there was, after all, a plethora of interests and actors. One set sought to push through the CAP, others wanted to protect interests they saw threatened by the CAP, still others to bring some kind of resolution to a debate that had started with the century. In this very long post, I aim to delineate the key moments and flow of events from my perspective as an advocate for a damless Grand Canyon.
The narratives, as always, proceeded as they did with a heavy dependence on the particular actors and their situations, as well as the real policy considerations they all had to contend with. (A glossary of names and terms is appended to this document, along with a note on the sources.) Sometimes it seems an actor appears determinative; sometimes, the events flowed as with their own life.
While the interpretation here is mine, I also hope it sets up an armature from which the important bits and pieces of the story can be hung and make sense in their relation to the whole.
Dams, Of Course (1965)
It is a measure of how different a society we were in mid-century that the assumption undergirding news reporting on the CAP legislation was that the decision to build dams in the Grand Canyon was foregone, essential, right, a social good. It was barely credible that the damage they would do (underestimated for sure) could power an opposition that would shape the 1966-7 events and make dams forsaken, unnecessary, wrong, and their rejection a great social step forward.
Momentous decisions were being made in 1963-5. Arizona’s Senator Hayden took the first initiative, re-introducing his narrow CAP-centered legislation put on the shelf in the early 1950’s. It did not get traction beyond the Senate. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall was the prime mover of the second, the grand, grandiose, Pacific Southwest Water Plan. Promoted with great fanfare, it aimed to solve forever all Colorado Basin water problems. Though it contained many of the elements Basin states desired, this was not the time for a top-down solution. The political situation demanded the outward show and inward reality of intra-Basin negotiations, of which the symbol and overseer was Chairman of the House Interior Committee Wayne Aspinall, Democrat from Colorado’s western slope, who in 1965 took charge of shaping legislation that would bring all parties together. Well, at least the parties he considered relevant, given his traditional view of western, Reclamation, politics.
The Senate and the Administration acknowledged that the House had to reach some kind of legislated consensus that would above all respect the interests of the Colorado River Basin. Aspinall held the leadership role, by experience, knowledge, the location of his district, and control of his committee.
Hearings were held in Aug-Sept 1965, a marker in preparation of a draft bill gathering in all elements for a Basin solution. With the lines drawn, Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, a quintessential politician, was given the charge of producing a satisfactory Basin-based draft of the bill, H.R. 4671, under Aspinall’s aegis.
That task accomplished, the Subcommittee on Reclamation, as the workhouse, could then hold another set of hearings, organized around 4671’s provisions, to allow public support to manifest itself. The Subcommittee would mark up the bill, voting on the specific provisions that would reflect the needs of all relevant parties. The full Committee would then act to send the bill on to the House floor, where it would be passed under Aspinall’s guidance.
Not much involved in 1965, I only knew that several conservationists (the blanket term common until ‘environmentalist’ replaced it from the 1970’s) had testified about the wonders of the Canyon. They were riding on memories of a mid-1950’s campaign that, in a very similar situation, had prevented the authorization of dams in Dinosaur National Monument. (Elements of the National Park System had been involved in, and partially protected from, dam-building efforts since the 1920’s.) Congressman Udall did his best to diminish the impact of any such testimony; for him and his allies, defenders of the Grand Canyon were in no way part of the crowd of claimants that needed to be taken into account. The anti-dam campaign featured the Sierra Club, led by its executive director, David Brower. It was a national effort, though spotty, hardly centralized, and already taken into account by the legislation’s architects -- or so they thought.
The Issues Laid Out and Debated (Early 1966)
Newspaper coverage in January 1966, the month I joined the Sierra Club staff, presented the Reclamation view, that the current task was the detailed justification of the elements of a wide-ranging scheme that would confront the BIG problem: The Colorado did not, could not reliably, carry enough water for all the demands to be made on it in coming decades, Reclamation insisted that two hydroelectric dams in the Grand Canyon would generate revenue essential, under Reclamation law, for making the new projects in HR4671 feasible. Dam opponents defended the Canyon on its own merits, and also argued that power generation prospects in the Southwest made the dams unnecessary.
In these early months of House consideration, firm statements were being firmly made in the debate over where “new” water for the Basin was to come from. The Northwest had a surplus, said those in the Colorado Basin states, -- who could not stop talking about getting some of it. You are not getting our water, replied the Northwesterners, led by Washington’s Senator Jackson, in the key role of Interior Committee chair.
For Basin State reporters, Aspinall had the central role in ending the debate over providing ways to avoid the future shortage. Colorado also featured because of the rising conservationist, anti-dam, opinion in that major Mountain States metropolitan area, Denver.
Not only was Aspinall seen as the overall House leader in this legislative setting, he was determined that his state’s share of the River would be protected. This led to the strategy of authorizing some new Colorado Reclamation projects --the Colorado Five-- to claim water rights. The justifications based on costs and benefits were not strong, however, and questions over the Five were continuing. So, when Aspinall announced in March he was ready for hearings, the announcement was taken as a signal that he felt he would be placated.
At this same time, Senator Jackson was pushing an important element of his strategy to block export of Northwest water. He held hearings on a bill to establish a national water commission that would study any & all areas of water shortage and supply, with the corollary that no such study would be in the Colorado Basin bill. Secretary Stewart Udall agreed, thus insuring that the administration would not simply align with the Aspinall-led Basin interests, but would seek to rise above the local controversies. This was a kind of lateral move, climbing down from the PSWSP ambitious goals, and passing the big Colorado basin question out of Congress and onto this commission. Aspinall’s view of this move was that the commission was part of a Jackson strategy to remove water import from the congressional agenda.
One analyst thought California’s demands for securing its Colorado River share had been satisfied. That state was in the opposite situation from the others: It already was pumping its share -- and more -- of the River west for its use. Having lost its right before the Supreme Court to any surplus above its share, California wanted to make sure that at least its share under the Colorado Compact was guaranteed, if and when the shortages of the future showed up. Over and over, California would insist on its “4.4 million acre-feet (maf) guarantee”. Arizona hated it, since sharing shortage was part of what it thought it had won before the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the 4.4 guarantee was just as certain an element in the debates as the CAP, the Colorado Five, No Grand Canyon dams, and No study on taking water from the Columbia River for Los Angeles.
Another element popped up: New Mexico wanted to use more water from the Gila River, again something that Arizona was being targeted on. One consideration: New Mexico’s Senator Anderson, long-serving and powerful, chaired that body’s Reclamation/Irrigation Subcommittee, allied with Senate Interior Committee Chair Jackson.
Denver, too, spoke up, since much of its water supply came from over the Rockies, out in Aspinall’s district. Awakening hopes for using the CAP bill to piggy-back prospects, even seemingly irrelevant one, became a characteristic of the HR4671 Udall and Aspinall were trying to cobble together. It was earning its moniker of “kitchen-sink” legislation.
West Texas asked to have its water needs studied, too, underlining, fantastically or satirically, this (what turned out to be fatal) attraction of the legislation -- accommodating every interest. Nevertheless, discussion and negotiation continued trying to satisfy Basin interests, especially over the Colorado Five and New Mexico. One problem with using the newspapers as source is that all too often, there were meetings and discussions that were not reported, but turned out later to have been crucial. This was not the case for the Colorado Five, since what slowed them down was getting Reclamation, Interior, and Administration approvals. These did come, sort of, in this period.
While satisfying the River Basin interests was proceeding in this expansive fashion, it was more and more clear that the effort was predicated on stiffing and stealing from the northwesterners and, if you please, we who considered ourselves advocates for the Grand Canyon. Debate over aspects of Grand Canyon dams was hot. Agreement on factual material was low, and fiercely argued over. So were the water matters, of course; however, on those, the various sides wanted to get together. The dam issue, contrarily, was binary: dams or no dams. No compromise.
During all the Basin negotiations, Arizona’s Senator Hayden made clear the House would have to show it could put its Crackerjack-box together and get it through the House before he would join in a Senate effort. The spotlight was fully on Udall and Aspinall. The papers regularly featured doom-criers; it made for exciting reading but missed the determination of those like the Coloradans and the Arizonans who were working out the details.
Dam Opponents Grab For The Initiative (March-April 1966)
Arizonans and Coloradans were also in the forefront, and harshest, in their attacks on Canyon advocates. My own interpretation is that those involved in trying to move this kind of water project legislation simply did not consider our objections relevant or our opposition legitimate. We were just not part of the in-crowd--a total mis-match of values: flowers and streams versus kilowatts and water for alfalfa. So, in this period, some of us started analyzing the dams on their own terms, looking at purposes, costs, benefits provided, and so on. This was not necessarily easy -- unlike Reclamation and the Basin water establishment, we did not have easy access to the facts and figures. What were the weak points, the arguments that would make it clear that the dams were dead-end policy directions and unprofitable economic choices? Or positively put, what arguments could we advance in which the central purposes of the legislation would be accomplished, while the dams would be exposed as unnecessary for those purposes, contrary to the national interest, and wasteful of national resources?
For instance, Richard Bradley had written an article for “Audubon” magazine laying out some options emphasizing the drawbacks of dams as investments. Alan Carlin and Laurence Moss emphasized the coming changes in, especially, nuclear power, that would make hydropower redundant. My own analysis was to look at how the dams’ revenues were to be used. I then showed those uses could be paid for even if the dams were not built. On top of that, it became clear that in the future, the accumulating profits would be used for even more Reclamation projects. In particular, and most alarming to the Northwest, the dams would fund taking water from the Columbia River system and sending it to the ever-thirsty lower Colorado Basin area.
Reporting, regionally and nationally, on our views was sparse, and often derisory. At the end of March, we hoped to begin bringing that narrowness of vision and ignorance to an end. After Bradley’s article was reprinted in the “Reader’s Digest” (RD), that magazine accepted the idea of a pro-Grand Canyon event on the rim of the Canyon itself. There, our ideas, arguments, and alternatives would be laid out before an audience of journalists, including a number flown out by the RD from New York to join with the more knowledgeable (and more biased?) folk from regional papers. We also encouraged friends of the Canyon from the Southwest to make the trek if they could, in order to talk with journalists to get across why we ordinary Americans were so committed to a dam-free Grand Canyon. No doubt, sticking a thumb in Reclamation’s eye would also please those who politically did not like big federal government, as was claimed to be true of the RD owners. Whatever, we in the Sierra Club thought we were being given a picture-perfect opportunity to make the case to the press FOR the Canyon AT the Canyon.
To emphasize this forward-looking view, Martin Litton & I, working (with a nudge from Secretary Udall through the Club’s W. Zimmerman) with Brower and the Club’s M.McCloskey, drafted a bill that would expand the Grand Canyon National Park to include the “complete” Canyon, thus excluding all dams forever. [As this blog has told in detail, much of this goal was accomplished in the GCNP Enlargement Act, enacted in 1975.] We enlisted three Representatives to introduce our “complete Park” bill as the RD event was taking place -- J.Saylor of Pennsylvania, J.Dingell of Michigan, and H.Reuss of Wisconsin; the first a Republican, the other two Democrats. Although this did not turn out to be the centerpiece of the event, it certainly stirred up that segment of Arizonans who cherished deer-hunting. But that story I also tell elsewhere.
The actual event, 30-31 March, reported at the time and then generating more material, turned into a fracas, a complicated tussle revealing of issues and personalities. Alerted to the RD plans, the Arizonans quickly marshalled their biggest guns -- Barry Goldwater, Morris Udall, etc. -- to fly to the Canyon and demand equal time. The original concept of a presentation in defense of the Canyon gave way to bifurcated sessions--ours, and then theirs. There was still mingling of the Canyon’s friends with the media, and still a number of the latter were flown the next day to hear Martin Litton speak at Toroweap, where there was a view of a Canyon stretch that would be lost. We took comfort too, when Goldwater expressed doubts about the upper dam -- he had boated through the Marble gorge in 1940 and was uncomfortable about losing it to kilowatt-hours.
There were a number of articles in the regional press -- Arizona Republic, Arizona Daily Star, Yuma Sun, Flagstaff Sun, Scottsdale Progress, Grand Junction Sentinel, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News. There was even, perhaps, just a bit, more friendliness toward the case for “Save Grand Canyon”, though on the whole, this was chewed-over meat for many of the writers. My file has a bunch of letters, surely only a small sample, supportive of both sides, attacking and supporting the Digest, as well as to political figures and various newspapers. Given today’s preference for instantaneous twit-bits, I find the passion, intelligence, and understanding shown in these letters a bit humbling. As for the event’s impact, immediate and long-range, history has been the judge. We were sore about losing the chance to present the Canyon’s case for being kept as the national and international icon it is, free of dams. Yet, as the first of the hammer blows struck on dam proponents, it made some national noise.
All Sides Prepare For Hearings In The House (April-May 1966)
The Basin water chiefs, and the media commentators, were still waiting & watching: when would the Colorado 5 be approved; what would be the effect of Jackson’s national commission bill; when would Aspinall give the ok for hearings on the omnibus bill Representative Udall was superintending; what would happen in the very different Senate situation? Udall gave them something to chew over as he released the latest version of the kitchen-sink, on which hearings would be conducted.
The prospective water shortage had left Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and, all of a sudden, newly interested Texas, speaking up for their interests. The advantage these players had in the House is that their natural ally Aspinall, with Udall as reliable detail man, exercised near-total control over the process; the omnibus, kitchen-sink, bill had him as its most formidable asset. The Colorado press was certainly unanimous in its faith in his capabilities. And I agree; he did think himself formidable enough to guide a bill through the House that would overcome the aroused dam opponents AND the perfectly placed Washington Senator Jackson.
Not a gambler, Aspinall was committed to the course of using the traditional tools of crafting Reclamation bills to get his legislation into the best strategic posture he could, regardless of the potential future difficulties. Then, with a solid accomplishment and a solid phalanx of allies, all the other elements -- Hayden, the Northwest, the Senate, the Administration, the dam opponents -- could be dealt with. Without knowing, it seems feasible to me that he was even doing a long game -- being satisfied to, first, get an intact omnibus bill through the House in 1966. Then, with all elements and allies intact, move it swiftly again through the House in early 1967 to set up a strong negotiation stance to deal with the Senate. I may be giving the backers of the omnibus bill too much credit; maybe the omnibus bill was them just stumbling from one crisis, one demand, to the next. The reader is, of course, free to play this game, too. Newspaper writers certainly did.
News items about the dam fight itself continued to appear, though the quantitative bulk -- after the RD affair surge -- was not clearly large enough to change qualitative evaluation of the issue’s weight. At this time, I judge it to be a continuing, minor, element in the Aspinall-Udall calculus. Reclamation was still openly championing both dams, as well as pushing to satisfy the Aspinall demand of approval for the Colorado 5. And of course, Basin politicos and watermen kept up the chorus that some major import scheme was essential as well as desirable. This clamor all served to keep the bill’s opponents alert and wary.
The Colorado (Aspinall) forces and the Administration (Interior under Secretary S. Udall) seemed in mid-April to be coming into a common position. California was seemingly satisfied; other loose ends were being worked on as hearings in May appeared more definite. Import from the Columbia basin and cash-generating dams were mentioned frequently not as obstacles, but as questions that already had answers. The hubris of the Southwest was part and parcel of that era’s successful and burgeoning development ethos.
A viewpoint even more peripheral than ours opposing the dams, was that of Arizonans advocating that the CAP should be built as a state project. For years, these, mostly strongly conservative, forces had been pushing for a license to build the upstream Marble Dam. They hoped that the revenues from a state dam could be used for a state-built water canal. Peripheral certainly, but their mutterings were a continuing irritant to those who wanted a federal Reclamation project.
With three weeks notice, hearings were announced for early May. With no publicity, we at the Sierra Club were working out our statements, our “technical” presentations in place of repeating the 1965 testimony lauding the Canyon. Our aim would be to sow doubt; the dams were unnecessary, out-of-date, and dangerous for the Northwest. Coverage of the dam issue was growing outside the Southwest still focused on importing the Columbia “surplus” to solve everything.
Hearings Before House Reclamation Subcommittee (May 1966)
Aspinall opened the May 1966 hearings attacking the Administration over the national water commission, deferring one of the big dams, and being dilatory on the Colorado 5. It was a give-nothing-away position; he must have felt no threats to his position. In the hearings, he was backed up by Reclamation’s chief.
Most of the other days were taken up by Basin States testimony in support of various elements of the omnibus bill. I remember California’s Northcutt Ely vigorous in defense of a guarantee to California that it could always pump its share of the Colorado, no matter what. Toward the end of the week, we conservationists presented our anti-dam technical critiques. We aimed to challenge Reclamation and the watermen on engineering and financial grounds that they could not brush off as tree-hugging and rock-stroking. Whether we really unsettled anything or not, Aspinall did feel compelled to call on federal experts to assess any claims for nuclear power’s superiority.
From our perspective, these testimonies were the second big noise we had made, after the RD confrontation. One report had called that event “rowdy”, but for us the only bad publicity was no publicity. Now we wanted that increased attention to do more than praise the Canyon; we wanted the dams to be seen as threats to sound resource development, to the Northwest, to future options. We were trying hard to think of ways, at the local and the national level, to attract even more attention.
Regional reporting did help make our case that the purpose of the dams was to build up funds and momentum for a big water import from the Columbia. Our relations behind the scenes with the Northwestern legislators were excellent and cultivated. I am not sure we had to convince anybody, but once our case was made, we kept repeating it: the dams and water import were inextricably linked. Fortunately, even amazingly, the legislation’s proponents echoed and amplified our point, even to the extent of dissing the national water commission and including a regional import feasibility-grade study by Reclamation (! the worst option for the Northwest) in the bill. It seemed as if Aspinall was putting together a maximum package to achieve weight and strength from the Colorado Basin for his effort. In May, he and his allies must have thought they had almost achieved that goal. With the Senate making no moves, had Aspinall concluded he could bulldoze his opponents there?
Not muted in any way was his bureaucratic ally, Reclamation’s Dominy, full-throated on the campaign trail for his dams (Bridge Canyon now re-labelled Hualapai). Colorado water strategist Sparks was emphasizing there had to be an import study to undergird the bill’s demand on future water supply. Aspinall kept his mind on the job of readying the House Irrigation Subcommittee to mark up the bill that Udall and all the others had cobbled together. One signal: though not subcommittee chair, Aspinall would preside at the mark-up. The media kept poking at potential weaknesses.
Subcommittee Mark-up; We Strike First (June 1966)
As May closed, the mark-up began, with Udall offering several agreed-upon provisions including a region-based import study. There were public statements by the Northwest on import and major defense of the dams by Arizonans, even including the Secretary. The tone of the situation was that the Aspinall-Udall effort was on track, and nothing was giving them second thoughts. Texas & Kansas were added to the study, and at the end of these working sessions, Representative Udall said he was much relieved and encouraged. As for us, pro-Canyon forces assumed there would be a vote on the dams on the House floor, and we were starting to canvass House offices.
It is worth saying that the Aspinall way, the old way of water resource development, was reaching for a high point here, a final settlement of 50+-year disagreements over Colorado River water. This time, Aspinall wanted to be as inclusive as possible, ignoring extra-Basin implications. As June began, the talk was of getting through the subcommittee, followed by full Interior Committee action, probably approval, in July.
Still working to increase national attention, on 9 June, the Sierra Club struck our third blow. We published full-page ads in two politically & nationally weighty newspapers: The New York Times, & Washington Post. The ads were full of argument, and, pointing at Washington and Secretary Udall, urged people to make their opinions felt; only that pressure could save the Grand Canyon. The ads, though they were not the first such, were seen as ground-breaking in their claim for attention. Serious money was being publicly spent to reach the wider public, not just our fellow choir members.
One almost-immediate response came from the Internal Revenue Service, in what turned out to be the fourth, and probably most potent, hammer blow against the possibility of Congress approving the dams. The IRS announced it was going to investigate Sierra Club expenditures on legislative matters. No freedom of monied speech for dam-hating citizens united to protect the Grand Canyon. With the ads, we had acted in a way that seemed well beyond anything allowed by law for an organization with a tax status that allowed contributors to take deductions for helping us defend the Canyon.
The resulting tsunami of national attention was the punch that fixed the dam controversy as a national issue. No one other than the IRS chief ever claimed responsibility for siccing the IRS on the Club. No wonder; it was a public relations bonanza for the Club and against the dams: -- big government bullying those pleading for the public’s interests. The Club was punished, the dam-lovers chortled, -- and then choked, as rising public opinion showed they had lost the big one.
Whether these big-four events of ours were determinative is not easily judged. What we had shown was our ability to make saving the Canyon a lively national issue. We certainly would have kept on. However, the ultimate test of the anti-dam campaign would have been a House floor vote on the dams. This was avoided. Foreshadowing a bit--the dam dream’s journey was to end in a couple of years, not with the bang of a big floor vote, but with its whimpering as it was shut away in the attic of never-to-be’s.
And it has to be said that despite our rumpus, Aspinall & Udall continued pushing their kitchen-sink contraption down the legislative line. Public commentary at this time was still on fixing the details of the huge bill. No one predicted a major derailment.
So, the subcommittee did approve the dams, and formalized the name change to Hualapai. This pro-Indian move was intended, according to reports, to blunt “preservationist” hold on public sympathies. (Oddly, Navajo Nation opposition to the upper dam being on their land received little notice.) Dam approval was a given in the committee arena. The most boisterous opponent was Republican congressman John Saylor. He could bluster against the dams in committee, but his most effective strategy would be to wait until the kitchen-sink bill reached the floor, and then marshall the disparate opposition forces, a hope that received a big boost from the bad publicity of the IRS move. Saylor was a showman, and journalist commentary reflected his hopes of being able to replace the compromise package with a smaller and dam-less package in a big floor battle. That hope was being reinforced daily by spreading newspaper coverage favorable to a dam-free Grand Canyon. Regional papers attacked strongly back.
The Struggle Looks More and More Real (July 1966)
Aspinall now spoke of a long process, perhaps into 1967 for this “most difficult” bill he had ever worked on. It would take all of June to finish subcommittee consideration, and he planned to end legislative work on 1 August. He opined that he saw no interest in the Senate, and this is an election year. Committee Republicans criticized this decision, and there was a “revolt” -- for the newspapers. It did, in fact, take until the end of June to get all the different eggs into the unwieldy basket. The 13-5 subcommittee vote for the dam heartened the Reclamation Commissioner, still full of hope. This, in spite of the increasing country-wide support for the anti-dam effort.
Since the Arizona lobby continued its efforts, we too kept up our visits to legislators. Whatever Aspinall was saying, the forces pushing the legislation were determined enough; having managed to get their huge package together, they had to aim for full House action. And, perhaps a shift to gain support, Aspinall floated the idea of dropping one of the dams (we said “No compromise. No dams”). Further, he wanted to work with the Northwest, although the bill as approved by the subcommittee, contained the most obnoxious form of the import study -- a feasibility study to be done by Reclamation under the guise of a regional effort.
So, as the House Interior Committee took up the bill in mid-July, it was to the accompaniment of the “dull roar” from across the nation against the dams. The Committee might approve a dam; the full House...not so fast.
Sierra Club’s Brower attacked Secretary Udall for not opposing the dams. There were one-dam-dropping rumors. A Denver paper was dubious about the whole proposition; Senator Jackson would never accept the study that the Basin, and particularly California, insisted was central.
And The Interior Committee Acts...
July 13-14, the talk was of the Saylor “bare-bones” bill that would drop the dams and the study. Aspinall adjourned the committee just before it was to vote on the Saylor substitute. Support from outside the West was drifting away from the Aspinall-Udall effort, according to some reports. A Californian on the committee criticized the effort; Aspinall slapped him down. Although comity was generally the way, tension was high as a vote on bare-bones was set for the 20th.
Interestingly, Secretary Udall now urged the Senate to act, since he thought it likely the House would get the bill done, and the Senate should be ready. This was not his most splendid moment, but he was from Arizona, and his brother would get a lot of credit were a bill to pass. The rumbling from the press on both sides continued. The Hualapai attacked, defending the dam that would make them rich, sneering at advocates for the Grand Canyon.
The vote for bare-bones was defeated handily in the hostile setting of the committee; Saylor then tried for delay. However, Aspinall, having fended off the Saylor threat, now made his own move, to amend the import study provision so that it might be more acceptable to the Northwest. This sounded unlikely, but it was a standard show of willingness to compromise with a legislative “rock”. The “hard place” now showed itself clearly: The Aspinall amendment carried, and in consequence, the Californians were outraged.
For Californians, the package was all tied together: their guarantee, Hualapai dam, the study to import water. So they called Aspinall’s change a “kiss of death” that could not have been approved in the subcommittee. Moreover, the change had been offered to the Northwest at a meeting, secret from the Californians. Aspinall’s wiliness was on full view: earlier, there had been the rumors about dropping a dam & enlarging Grand Canyon National Park. Now, he was watering down the study to make it less a dagger pointed at the Northwest (though Senator Jackson was not fooled). Was his control of the committee rock-hard? Or was Californian outrage the force to wrest that control away?
And Over-Reacts (July 1966)...
Over the next few days, the arguments and pressure, largely carried on out of public sight, were intense over the Aspinall effort. By July 27th, he had lost, and the Californians, threatening to desert the bill on the floor, had their way. Even Aspinall’s Colorado allies did not back his move. The full study was reinstated. His weakness showed up in another vote against Hualapai dam that lost by only 3, a sure indication of floor trouble, since two Californians had broken ranks. Aspinall’s judgment being rejected must surely have damaged his overall position, even though there was patching up of appearances when the bill was approved 22-10 on 28 July. California had shown its power, but at the cost of humiliating Aspinall. He now talked of weeks to write the report and get a rule for floor consideration. He did not know if there were the votes on the floor; leadership was now in the hands of the Arizonans (Udall had deserted him in the show-down) and Californians. He did blame the dam opponents and the Northwest for blocking legislative resolution. Still, it was California and its allies who insisted on the dam and the feasibility study, and had played hardball to keep them. By 31 July, Aspinall said the bill was “dead” for this session.
The Club held a press conference to insist on NO dams. Yet insofar as we understood what had happened, the bill was now very clearly an anti-Northwest bill, and the dams were part of the package to steal Columbia River water. Our position was strengthened, even though we had yet to win a vote. The country was aroused, and the water powers in the Senate were not placated. California had the numbers to bully Aspinall, but the Northwesterners made clear the big state did not have an advantage in the Senate. We took this moment to offer our version of a damless studyless bill, but just got attacked by Representative Udall, administration flunkies, and conservative Goldwater -- who said he loved the Canyon, but people more.
Since the Committee had reported the big, bad bill out, the Rules Committee would have to act to set up floor debate. With the continuing national media roaring (some quite nasty) about the dams as backdrop, the report was written by 10 August, blasting dam opponents, and with a northwest minority view linking and opposing import study and the dams.
And The Contraption Runs Out Of Gas (August 1966)
The question was now whether the bill had the votes to get through the full House intact. Udall as the lead head-counter said they had the commitments; the House leadership and the Californians were not so sure, as of 17 Aug. The articles assessing, with doubts, whether the votes were there, were interspersed with the continuing debate. As playing out in the press, the pro-Canyon (and anti-IRS) position could only have made the bill’s backers nervous, their position already weaker because of their treatment of their leader, Aspinall. So, every few days, the assessment was still negative, until by the 28th or so, the “Udall” bill was being declared dead by all. Aspinall was off to campaign. Secretary Udall said it was not the end forever; persistence would pay off.
Recriminations, Relaxation, Re-thinking (September-October 1966)
Brower got to speak in Washington and offered the Club alternative. By this time, it was clear there would be no floor action, and so some of us involved in the fight took off for a few-weeks rowing trip through the Grand Canyon, to celebrate what was still there, excoriate the villains in the piece, and think about how to insure a damless future for the Canyon.
The dam backers kept up their barrage, trying to discredit our case, though perhaps this was just putting out material already prepared for the now-evaporated floor confrontation. Otherwise, there was blame and the beginnings of how to re-formulate legislation. California was clearly pinned up as the chief villain, and Arizonans’ talk turned more loudly to doing the CAP themselves. Secretary Udall’s suggestion of substituting nuclear for dam power found no favor in Arizona; it was, nevertheless, an indication that Interior (with some new personnel) was thinking about proceeding outside the current box, perhaps factoring in the rash of new coal-fired powerplants. There were other analyses and post-mortems as September went on, but no clear direction emerged. Publicly, the derailing of the kitchen-sink bill left only wreckage and moaning.
However, Interior was not idle. Udall and staff were serious about serious re-thinking. Given that it was his grandiose plan of three years before that launched the kitchen-sink strategy, he can be, and was, praised for being ready to change course, or damned for inconsistency. Whatever, the papers were reporting in October that he had ordered a comprehensive re-study of how to proceed with plans that did not include any dams. (I had heard of this from a friendly Reclamation source who told me of a tremendous effort by Reclamation staff to come up with a range of damless plans; in the end there were thirty-some.)
Shapes Emerging From The Fog (November-December 1966)
Arizonans, perhaps not trusting or wanting to wait on, Interior, were talking up their own ideas, heavily stressing state initiatives. In electioneering, the anti-dam forces were handy to be bashed. However, all were waiting until the elections were over, since many still wanted to see a federally-funded project. California and Colorado reports were more centered on protecting the agreements made in 1965-6. News of the Interior re-thinking was reported, with little effect. Finger-pointing and stalemate continued; positions were being hashed over, but no decisions made. Interestingly Brower and Representative Udall both made forays into the other side’s public forums, though only for display; Brower was adamant about “not 2, not 1, but no, dams”. Talk was over the given positions, and the need to try again.
The prospect was for a grim rejoining of the battle. Aspinall certainly had not given up and was offering a standard-issue “compromise”. According to what was said in public, lines had not shifted yet, but one could find voices counseling the re-thinking. I spoke publicly about what I had heard about the Interior studies. Reclamation was insisting on its standard formula. A big meeting of reclamation officials heard the existing positions vociferously insisted upon.
(An institutional comment: The shape and flow of affairs needs the kind of framework that consideration of legislation provides. The backing & filling, with loud breast-beating, that was going on, would continue until the process again became active in January. The conventional wisdom would prevail until a more powerful initiative and initiator could take hold and steer the action. That was what had happened in 1966 with the Aspinall-Udall-driven kitchen-sink bill. And had the legislative year not run out on them, this story would have worked out differently. The end of that Congress re-opened the question of who would drive the process. Aspinall certainly thought he would and on his terms. Arizona was not so sure. Interior was still preparing what turned out to be its new case. Others were waiting for the next round to begin.)
As November ended, Colorado’s water mavens had re-formulated the 1966 bill, with changes that were supposed to attract votes from non-participants even if the Canyon advocates and Northwest were not satisfied. Yet Arizona remained split, with a strong do-it-ourselves faction. Headed into the holidays and still in the pre-new-Congress situation, the reports all sounded like 1965 redux. Knowing what was to come, it was indeed like that period before a thunderstorm, with puffs of wind back and forth, an oppressive weight, and mutterings unheeded as people scurry about bringing in the clothes.
Early in December, Arizona’s Senator Hayden said there would be two bills, two approaches. And he did not object to Arizona studying going it alone. Reports were produced that showed the feasibility of a state-built dam and canal. There was much talk about the compromise from the Colorado-Aspinall group that would drop one dam, extend the Park upstream, build the downstream dam, and conduct only a reconnaissance study. No one fooled themselves that this approach would end conservationist and Northwest opposition. Perhaps it would soften some of it up or strengthen such a bill’s chances in the House. Aspinall again scorned any idea of going for thermal power. Attacks on Canyon advocates continued, and the IRS concluded the Sierra Club had violated its rules.
Articles early in 1967 showed the widening awareness of the importance of coal-fired powerplants. With the new Congress, Arizona introduced a bill calling for Hualapai dam, not giving California a guarantee or Colorado its five projects, and asking for the federal government to guarantee water to Mexico, easing demands on the Colorado Basin States. In retaliation, California re-introduced the 1966 bill. A minor threat, that Arizona might get a license to build a state Marble dam, was finessed. Aspinall now put forth a bill dropping one dam, and doing a shell game on the import study, hoping the Northwest would be mollified. Other Basin states were not on board with any of this, and so in the House, the situation was fractured, with Aspinall in the seat supposedly set to drive a package through, an over-estimate attributed to Colorado’s chief lobbyist.
New Year, New Congress, New Direction (January-February 1967)
The President’s budget called for the CAP, including Hooker dam for New Mexico, with water-pumping using power from a thermal plant, not a dam. The new idea was to put up federal money to pre-pay for the capacity to pump the CAP water. This was the first public statement of an important shift, but Reclamation’s Dominy banged the drum for dams anyway. Aspinall was thinking of hearings in February, when more dust had settled. Alert, the Sierra Club asked that no license be issued for a state-built dam in Marble.
Secretary Udall met with Senators Hayden, Anderson and Jackson about the Administration’s new approach. For one of the handful of most significant events in this history, it was barely noticed, much less reported on. The result of this discussion, or possibly presentation, was that February opened with the announcement by Secretary Udall of the administration’s proposal to reset the terms of the debate:
No dams, pre-paid power from a private utility’s coal plant to pump the CAP water, two Colorado projects, a National Water Commission to do any studies. All the add-ons, like the California guarantee and Colorado’s five projects, were left out. Senators Hayden and Jackson had approved this Udall initiative. Also, there would be a Park expansion later and Hualapai dam was only “deferred”.
Universal Hatred (February 1967)
The vocal reaction, especially from Coloradans and Californians, was massively against; perhaps they hoped their verbal volleys would slow down what they could see would happen: In the Senate, an Administration bill supported by the powers-that-be (Jackson, Hayden, Anderson) could out-point the other Basin states. Aspinall was especially outraged: the bill would NOT pass. Jackson, to the contrary, said he was ready to introduce and move the bill along in the Senate. Hayden was ready to introduce a similar bill, although the other Arizonan, Fannin, was not in favor of all the provisions, for whatever that mattered, since he was a junior Republican in the Democratic-dominated Senate.
The Californians and Coloradans, also Republican, did introduce their bills, in form similar to the kitchen-sink approach. Interestingly, one analysis from Aspinall’s district called leaving out key provisions, “tongue-in-cheek” by Secretary Udall, knowing they would be put back. The point of the administration’s initiative, so scaled down, was said to be to mollify the opponents that had been seen to have real veto power: the Northwest and the Canyon advocates.
The rhetoric from Colorado and California, echoing Aspinall’s spleen and obstinacy, heaped vitriol on the Canyon-lovers and their toadies in the Administration. Perhaps the nastiness of the opposition was in proportion to their lost hope in the face of what any knowledgeable analysis of the Senate personalities and operation showed: this proposal would sail through that body, and then confront the rickety kitchen-sink Aspinall contraption, which might not even survive a House floor vote. By biting the bullet, and tossing away his grandiose, solve-it-all approach of 1963, Secretary Udall had removed the major blocks to the central part of the bill: giving Senator Hayden his CAP. Fixing the inevitable water shortage for the Basin States would just have to be kicked down the road, down the years, until it became real. And a solution then would not have to come at the expense of the Northwest and its river basins. There is certainly a case to be made for the youngster Secretary of the Interior, sensing the future, being ready to wrap up the Colorado Basin in a modest package that the oldster House Interior Committee Chairman feared was the death knell for his tried-and-true, but now-antiquated, version of “how to win the West”.
Commentators insisted on a big confrontation between Aspinall and the Administration version; there would have to be a House-Senate conference, and then we’d see. A signal was sent as the Senate, by voice vote, approved the National Water Commission, Jackson’s vehicle to do any studies about water going anywhere. It was now off to the House; what would Aspinall do?
Hayden introduced his version of the administration CAP bill, with perhaps half the Senate sponsoring, and warmly supported by Interior Committee chair Jackson, who was also introducing the administration version. There was much foot-shuffling by those left out, trying to re-gain their balance and find a position from which to confront the Hayden-Jackson-Administration juggernaut. One left out, apparently, was Reclamation’s Dominy, as the Secretary re-shaped his policy with the help of more up-to-date thinkers on his staff. The Upper Basin water establishment was all split up; New Mexico solidly within the Senate Interior Committee majority, Colorado the noisiest opponent, Utah and Wyoming waiting to be taken care of, but without political weight.
Yet They Had A Point (February 1967)
The solid footing that California and, principally, Colorado found was the conviction that the Colorado River could not meet the demands to be put upon it in coming decades. This was a principled position, and Aspinall, dependent on horse-trading as he always had been, tried to stand on it, as the Hayden allies peeled away the potential horses, such as California’s guaranteed supply, Utah and New Mexico projects, and even the Colorado Five, right in Aspinall’s front yard. A strange sight, as a master bill-builder like Aspinall was cornered defending the need to solve future shortages instead of leading the way to satisfy Arizona and the other parties. A statesmanlike position, but now hopeless facing the Northwest, a ten-ton gorilla fortified by the national clamor over the IRS-assaulted Sierra Club defending the Grand Canyon from dams whose only purpose was turn the gorilla into Los Angeles’ tame waterboy. Not gonna happen -- and when would Wayne Aspinall have to acknowledge that? It could not have helped that he had been undercut the previous August by California. Did he have his old control over such a fractious committee now? And how much did he have to fear from his long-time Republican friend-foe, John Saylor?
The bill Aspinall launched contained the provisions worked out by Coloradan Sparks: drop Marble dam, expand the national Park, build a Hualapai dam and add a recreation area, do some sort of study, build the CAP and pay off the other states. The Sierra Club scorned this as a cynical stunt, using an ad that was a personal attack on Aspinall.
Meanwhile, it should be noted, the Arizona-for-Arizona crowd was fumbling along, making up what it hoped was a credible threat for a CAP built by the state. A side show, a political grandstand play by rural conservatives, a distraction from the big-boys game in Washington? In 1965-6, with its delicate negotiations, it might have mattered, but with Hayden and Jackson firing up the Senate’s legislative train, that kind of high-jinks did not matter.
They Just Did Not Have The Power (March 1967)
With his compromised compromise kitchen-sink bill ready, Aspinall prepared for hearings at which he meant to put Interior officialdom in their place, and demonstrate his ability to bring all parties together. In advance his man Sparks speechified around, trying to intimidate both the Northwest and Arizona. A man with a long, public-oriented career, Felix Sparks’ biography in this period would be a personalized blow-by-blow of how the grand effort to solve the Colorado’s water situation was tried and failed. As Aspinall presided, Sparks was out there, doing the legwork, trying mightily to craft the uncraftable. As always, people matter, and workhorse that he was, Sparks was up against a combination of people unmasterable by the legislative tools even of an Aspinall. A colorful writer would be delighted to fill out the canvas of this battle of the Titans.
Grandly, Aspinall opened his hearings mid-March 1967 claiming his would be the do-or-die arena; we have to get together here or there will be no bill “for a long long time”. So Saylor started things off with a dispute over who was to testify on what. Congressman Udall started off, with a proposal different from all others, CAP with big dam, and stiffing other states. California then offered a new wrinkle: bring water from northern California to help take care of Mexico (the fed would pay for this diversion). Otherwise, all was about guaranteeing California its share in time of shortage.
The Club’s ad appeared, attacking Aspinall for his Park ”expansion”.
The Northwest testimony was: no targeted import study.
The main news was the old news: Arizona v. California, -- in spite of a pre-hearing private meeting, one of many over the past few months. It was this outward show of disunity after 1966’s big effort that greased the wheels for the all-together-now Senate effort.
Next, it was Aspinall attacking Secretary Udall in their “Dispute Beaut”. He went after the new pre-payment plan, water supply estimates, loss of dam revenues. Saylor chimed in on Udall’s side. The Secretary, with Dominy at his side, mentioned the sharp differences in Interior over the dam. Aspinall rejoined that Udall’s “heaven” was out of reach. Other testimony was more conventional and restrained, though the Sierra Club position against any dam was restated.
Not only had the anti-Aspinall ad come out, but there was big coverage in Arizona of a university study showing that the CAP was not even needed. “A big disservice” according to the Arizona press. However, this was dwarfed by another California thrust: Los Angeles’ proposal to convert Hualapai dam to the upper reservoir for a pumped storage project. More power, more revenue, more dams, wheee! Everyone was startled by this one, and much time was spent trying to figure out whether it had any feasibility or was just another dastardly Californian ploy to slow down any CAP authorization. The hearings, a show staged by a master of the old, had been over-run by new, if over-the-top, thinking. Surely, watching the Aspinall hearings re-treading the ground that had led to the 1966 failure, those in the Senate and Administration were more convinced that their new, slimmed-down approach had a better chance.
So Now, Lets Get The Show Moving (April-May 1967)
Hayden announced there would be Senate hearings on 1 May, before Anderson’s Irrigation Subcommittee. The bills would be versions of the damless, study-less Hayden-Administration-Jackson legislation. Following the noise-and-shock of the House event, the Senate showed how it could be done with testimony on weather modification by Secretary Udall, with Jackson smilingly presiding. The former also predicted a CAP bill would pass in 1967. Ignoring reality, Arizona leaders suggested low-cost water could bring back idled farming acres. Otherwise the weeks before the Senate hearings passed with little news, though Aspinall dug himself in deeper by telling the Northwest it had to “subdue its passions” and accept an import study. Meanwhile, he waited for Reclamation to evaluate the new material his committee had received, before, presumably, resuming his normal path to successful legislation.
However, the Administration and the Senate had reconfigured the landscape, breaking with the 1966 Basin accords, moving instead to satisfy the major opponents revealed by the 1966 stand-off: the Pacific Northwest and advocates for a damless Grand Canyon. It cannot be stressed enough that the particular players—Sec. Udall, and Senators Hayden, Jackson & Anderson—disposed of the power necessary to make this reconfiguration work. Aspinall could fulminate as to what he believed was required, but his writ stopped at the doors of the House, if not earlier, as his 1966 humiliation at the hands of California showed.
The hearings were the first week of May 1967; the main exhibit was Secretary Udall; the main attackers were Senators Allott of Colorado & Kuchel of California -- part of the Republican minority, and heavily out-pointed in experience of western resource politics by the three Democrats. Allott was the point man; his angry rhetoric was unsparing. The Colorado River, Hayden and the Arizonans, Secretary Udall; he went after them all, and met a wall. Udall confronted Allott’s praising the dam with a solid truth: Hualapai dam is a gun pointed at the Columbia. Even Hayden, a backer of “Bridge Canyon Dam” for 20 years, was ready to shelve it; it is time for Arizona to get its water. In an oral history interview, Hayden’s principal aide, Roy Elson, did lament losing the dam, while acknowledging it had become a deadweight on CAP approval.
Allott decried the lack of foresight in Udall shifting to this “one-state” approach. The dam was just a down payment on the Columbia, reaffirmed Udall. Shame, cried Kuchel. Hayden called the California guarantee a perpetual burden on Arizona. Jackson himself scoffed at Goss’ plan, severely questioning its need. At more than one point, a contentious issue was finessed by being put on the agenda of a future National Water Commission. When Colorado officials came to the stand, Anderson simply cautioned its officials not to be too inflexible.
We advocates for the Canyon testified, re-stating our opposition to the dams and our analysis of how to pay for the CAP without them. Allott went after the lobbying of the Sierra Club, attacking us personally, and calling for a probe of our work. We took comfort from a comprehensive Grand Canyon National Park bill that had just been put forward by New Jersey’s Senator Case. And from the increase in Club membership of 25%.
At the end, Hayden was optimistic; nothing major or new had been brought up in the hearings. An Arizona newspaper analyst summarized what he had heard as grim; how could Hayden be optimistic with so much disagreement over the legislation’s provisions? However, Secretary Udall was also optimistic -- just wanting Congress to get a move on. Meanwhile, he pushed his pre-payment method and dissed the GossPlan.
The Senate Shows How Things Get Done (June 1967)
Grim continued to be the tone of commentary through May: how could the opposing positions be reconciled? The answer came with action in both Senate and House committees approving the national commission bill after minimal changes and no attempt to prioritize the Southwest’s problems. Aspinall, giving up this bill as a possible bargaining chip, said he did not want the commission to be tangled in the CAP effort. This way, something would be accomplished and the problem of how to reconcile the CAP bill’s conflicts postponed. He was also avoiding another move to take the committee away from his control; there had been some talk about a maneuver approving the Administration version championed by Saylor.
In a strong move, the Hayden bill was taken up by the full Senate Interior Committee under Jackson. Skipping subcommittee consideration, did give the outnumbered Colo-fornians the chance to criticize such an abnormal procedure. In a document titled “Requiem”, Colorado’s Sparks also criticized both Jackson and Udall for inconsistent positions, prompted by the failure of talks aimed at reviving the 1966 arrangements. Aspinall also peppered the Senate effort with verbal shot: “I reject this. A death knell for legislation.” However, through the second half of June, the committee majority worked away in executive session, rejecting attacks by votes like 14-3.
The five Colorado projects were added on. A basin account was established so that revenues would stay available for uses in the Southwest. The Arizona lobbying group declared it was willing to give up the dam (still a part of Representative Udall’s House bill) as long as the CAP could be paid for. Allott, losing vote after vote, saw a party-line division and threatened a filibuster. Aspinall chimed in, expressing his frustration at not being able to convince the Northwest to accept a dam to fund future waterworks. California’s Kuchel made a final attempt, offering his version as a substitute, and losing by the usual margin, ended his efforts. Allott went on damning the product: “shameful and one state dominating a region”.
With a vote of 13-3, the Senate Interior Committee approved the bill on 30 June. Important provisions: CAP, 5 Colorado projects, lower basin fund, California guarantee to 27 years, prepayment for the power supply to pump water, a priority for Yuma on river water, 18,000 af more water for New Mexico, a Hualapai dam moratorium, Utah awarded dollars for its Dixie Project. The center of the Hayden-Administration initiative was thus intact, and the additions to attract support left room for more change when the House did decide to act.
Action Begets More Action (July-August 1967)
Aspinall moved the water commission bill to the House floor and passage without muting his calls to change the Senate CAP bill to include an import study and using Hualapai dam’s revenues to help pay for any import. Indeed, Coloradans could not stop mentioning all the money that the dam would generate. Although California continued its opposition to the bill as re-written, Colorado was now the source of the most bitter criticism, in the face of Jackson’s optimism that the bill was good enough to be adopted in the House, if it reached the floor.
Meanwhile, and a bit late, Secretary Udall took a family river trip through the Canyon, finding it wonderful, and then later, his brother led a group of Representatives through, in order to selectively demonstrate how little damage would be done, supposedly giving the lie to conservationists who, at this point, did not much care about the younger Udall’s distortions.
Jackson brought the CAP bill to the Senate floor early in August, and after 3 days of debate, it was passed on the 7th. The Basin States’ votes split right in half. A symbolic vote to add Hualapai dam lost 70-12. Allott & Kuchel made their arguments about the water-short Colorado needing to be augmented. After passage, Secretary Udall called it a tribute to Hayden, as did Aspinall, although what he meant was that it was a “purely political operation”. The Secretary asserted that compromises would make it all work. But the losers were vociferous in condemning the study-less, dam-less version. Arizonans cheered, while pointing out that California had blocked the CAP years before, and again in 1966.
Aspinall Stalling, … (August 1967)
Aspinall’s response made it obvious he was not ready to confront the job of putting together a viable House bill -- he ran away back to his district, announcing just as the Senate acted that he was going home and there would be no House action on the CAP bill this year. One Arizonan termed him a Goliath, solidly in the way. Others speculated that Aspinall was afraid of a move in the committee to ignore him and just accept the Senate bill. They wondered if there was a chance to go around the intransigent House chairman. In the papers and behind closed doors, the debate over what might, could, and would not happen went on, but it was all words, with Aspinall adamant he would not act in 1967. Nevertheless, in interviews with trusted papers, Aspinall seemed to be lowering his demands, talking about ways to improve the Hayden effort. It all sounded like a lot of August dog-days news-hunting.
Hayden Attacks! (September-October 1967)
The war of words was continuing in September, when Hayden announced, that as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he was cutting funding for a Colorado project, since it seemed the river does not have enough water for it. He complained that his bill deserved a vote in the House.
This was a shocking departure for Hayden, who was not noted for such power politics. Allott argued with him in the committee, and when other Senators pled with Hayden, he softened by agreeing to make his move on the floor, instead of the committee, by adding the CAP bill to the public works appropriation. This was another irregularity, although it had been done before, in fact by Hayden for a Colorado project years before. The committee backed this effort, and Hayden is reported to have said he had found the previous move “distasteful”. Allott stormed, while Aspinall remained quiet, with news accounts only able to speculate on the impact of what Hayden was attempting. One of the continuing themes now made by Arizonans is that they had helped many other states, but now Arizona was being denied what it deserved.
As the stand-off continued into October, Arizona talked up its being able to proceed with a state-financed project, if Aspinall refused to move. Others wondered how Aspinall could ignore the CAP and all the other pressing issues before his committee. The personalities of the individuals involved were analyzed (bunch of grumpy old (Hayden was turning 90) whitemen).
Aspinall Yields, Then Goes on Shuffling (October-November 1967)
With it becoming clear that Hayden’s maneuver to add the CAP to public works appropriations was credible, stories appeared that Aspinall was expected back in Washington on October 2nd or so, and would convene an executive session of his committee the next week, even as votes were being sought to head off the Hayden maneuver. The next signal came from senior House Committee Republican Saylor, who agreed there would be no action this year, but that the CAP would be the priority in 1968. The ending came on the 11th, when at the meeting, Aspinall promised a January or February vote on the CAP. With this “definite assurance”, Hayden withdrew his move. Aspinall later claimed that he and Saylor had agreed on this priority back in August, but did not tell Hayden since it was House business. Representative Udall, carrying the news to Hayden, admitted he had not known of the priority either (and had actually lost a vote earlier to set one). He supported Aspinall anyway.
This was another of those knotty moments in this legislative history (like the IRS) when you get to choose your truth. I think Aspinall went home, hoping pressure would build on Hayden-Jackson for a water study/dam. Hayden’s well-publicized effort to bypass him scuttled this, and brought him (and Saylor) to make this very public gesture of announcing the priority. This was one of the big differences with 1966, where action took place so late in the Congress. Now in 1967, Hayden-Jackson had moved swiftly and surely, and had more than a year left to squeeze Aspinall on bringing out a bill, with Representative Udall pressing him all the while--nicely. What emerged from the kerfuffle was a determination, by Aspinall and other Coloradans, that water chief Sparks would go back to work to figure out what were the elements of a bill that would bring agreement in this new situation. He had played this role before. Aspinall himself sent a letter asking for this work to be done.
In all of this, Secretary Udall played the happy card, declaring to all that everything will work out -- and after all, his new-approach initiative had shown the road to take. Hayden and his aide Elson had used the Senator’s clout to jab Aspinall into responding. Aspinall had been trying brickbats and truculence to block any action that did not flow his way, and after the confrontation, perhaps responding to Saylor’s and Rep. Udall’s blandishments, was moving to get some new or at least revised ideas into the mix. For color, there was Allott, honking and squeaking with rage. Jackson, to the contrary, was surely quietly waiting in the background until the time came around to move the process to completion.
Almost as if to contrast with his conciliatory moves, Aspinall in early November gave a speech that reiterated all his well-worn positions. There had to be power-generating features in the bill, and he had told Hayden just that, in spite of all his maneuvers. He worried his area would not get fully developed, and remain a playground(sic!). He championed development above wilderness and parks that locked land up. Thus, his public rhetoric.
In counterpoint, Jackson spoke out about the progress to be made on bills he and Aspinall were now both moving. He was optimistic that differences over the CAP bill could be resolved, and of course, leave out a massive water diversion: That “was not in the cards”.
Colorado Stumbles After the Bandwagon (December 1967)
Sparks had his stripped-down compromise-of-compromises bill ready for discussion in early December. Again, Aspinall spoke out on the dim prospects for action, with the situation even worse than in the summer. Ignoring this, the governors of Arizona and California were making new, more conciliatory noises about working together, maybe prodded by Arizona’s still muttering about its state project.
BUT WAIT! LETS CELEBRATE! (7 December 1967)
Sparks presented his draft revision to Basin States representatives in a Las Vegas meeting 7 December. There was no Hualapai dam in it. And if there is a moment to point to as the signal that the fight over the dams was done, it would be this. Aspinall and the Calif-radan forces had been vociferous about the dam and its magical profits-for-import throughout the year that the Administration-Hayden-Jackson bill was swanning its way through the Senate and onto the House’s doorstep. Somewhen, in “the stilly waters of behind-the-scenes-legislating night”, Wayne Aspinall and Felix Sparks, and no doubt others, looked the situation squarely on, and Aspinall gave what must have been a most reluctant sign to Sparks: Go ahead, get me a bill --no dam, no import study-- to deal from. With this move, the dam was removed from the agenda. It could have been included, and used as a bargaining chip perhaps, an arguing point. But then, it might also have been a conduit for a move to just use the Senate bill to run over Aspinall. By dropping the two big Must-Haves that he had been insisting on all year, Aspinall cut off any more fight over the Grand Canyon dams. Was he defeated? Yes. Was he still in charge of what the House would put together to “improve” the Senate-passed bill? Yes.
Other provisions in the Sparks draft dealt with an augmentation study, the California guarantee, power and pay-out provisions for the CAP, having the Colorado projects & CAP built concurrently. Aspinall had said nothing publicly. California had a new, more conciliatory, representative; crusty old Mike Ely, long-time opponent of Arizona, had moved out of the picture. From the Arizona view, the Sparks initiative, with its pro-Colo-fornia additions, looked not too far off from the Hayden bill, with some rough spots to be worked out.
The Colorado Draft Clears The Way (December 1967-January 1968)
When Sparks brought his draft before his Colorado water board, it discussed the big changes of calling for augmentation, not import, and barring the two dams. A large desalting plant, being studied by Reclamation, was mentioned. However, the jumpiness of this period was again brought out as Californians made conciliatory noises, just at the time Representative Udall made a poke-in-your-eye speech in Los Angeles.
Matters settled down at year’s end, when Aspinall made the announcement that his Committee would hold four days of hearings, with Interior witnesses only, at the end of January. The Committee would then proceed to mark up the Senate-passed bill. Secretary Udall, citing Basin States’ approval of the Sparks draft, was more optimistic than ever. Together, Aspinall setting a timetable and Udall cheerleading were together a statement that, for all the echoes of left-over rhetoric, it was time to bring the game to an end.
January rolled quietly up to the hearings. California introduced its bill, dropping dams, but not an import study. Aspinall now spoke only of getting everyone together around the Sparks bill, and not getting bogged down in old disputes. He approved the idea of using existing dams’ revenues to pay for the new projects, one of the central points in our 1966 analysis. The Sparks plan took aim at the Mexican obligation so that providing its share of the Colorado would become an obligation of the United States, not just of the Basin, and calling for a study to augment the river to meet that obligation. However, the source state would have to approve exporting any of its water. Both President Johnson and the House leader of the Republicans voiced support for the legislation. All the Administration reports were supportive as the hearing opened.
Aspinall sounded a sour note, that Interior was not being truthful or realistic about how much water there was or about a big desalting plant. Reclamation’s Dominy tried to be reassuring, and Aspinall relented, though insisting that nationalizing the Mexican obligation was key. Dominy even helped the Northwesterners by saying import would be the costliest option. Representative Udall and Coloradan Sparks thought the revised effort, now embodied in a Californian bill, was in good shape.
Udall was disappointed when Aspinall put mark-up off for a few weeks. Aspinall was now focussed on the Mexican burden and desalting. There was also a bill from Saylor, even more trimmed down. The issue of Hooker Dam invading the Gila Wilderness, was beginning to be talked about. It was, however, part of the deal between Arizona and New Mexico, to insure Senator Anderson’s support. Our effort in that state had been to convince him that there were other damsites or even other approaches to use of Gila River water.
Aspinall Keeps Things Moving (February-March 1968)
The Reclamation Subcommittee mark-up started with the Northwest gaining a source-state veto over any import studies. The California guarantee was fobbed off on the Secretary to solve -- that is, if there were water-short years, Interior would figure out how to handle cut-backs. Part, not all, of the Mexican burden was made a national responsibility.
The Hooker dam issue was finessed by language allowing for an alternative. (Interestingly, like so much that was pressing then, Hooker has never been an issue since; the water was never needed.) The Arizonans still complained that the California guarantee was too open-ended.
Pretty remarkable, many commented, that within only a month, a bill had been crafted, very similar to the Senate’s, that would seem to be amenable to final compromising. The bill, accompanied with general plaudits, would be taken up by the full Committee later in March, but without any major issues facing it. Californians, though lamenting the loss of dams+import study, were supportive. The tone, in such contrast to the jumpiness of the previous fall, was smooth and laudatory.
In final action, an even more stripped-down Saylor substitute lost 18-5, and what Aspinall called “a bill fair to everybody” passed 17-5. As a footnote, it is worth noting that Saylor’s ability to affect the course of action had been removed with the development of the Sparks bill, placating the two major adversaries to smooth progress for the bill. The issues that remained were either minor or made-up; everyone knew now what the shape of the final work would be, and that it would be enacted. So, while the sponsors all congratulated themselves on their good work, and had no problem repelling opposing ideas, that was only because all the major issues had been resolved back in 1967, largely by players outside those in the Basin who were now noisily patting themselves on their backs.
When the full Interior Committee did begin its work, it went into an unusual executive session. In that session, the Northwest kept trying to further water down any augmentation provisions, losing 16-6. The Basin states kept together, but everyone knew that any tussle over import language would be in the conference with Jackson’s Senate. As always, there was bitching around the edges, even as the participants praised their work. Wyoming was shaping up to be a complainer, though absolutely no sympathy was forthcoming, since it already had its share of water.
The final vote was 26 March, and Aspinall said he wanted the Committee report to be done so that he could go to the Rules Committee in late April. The change in tone of the newspaper coverage is remarkable; amity and accord just did not generate the interest. But then, what to make of a situation, once red-hot with contention, when Saylor, the big opponent, went to the floor to present a committee resolution praising Aspinall’s leadership -- a pleasant sop to the Chairman grumpily accepting the inevitable in order not to be run over again?
Marching On To Victory (April-May 1968)
A major lobbying campaign was put together, with Colorado and Arizona doing the major weight-lifting. The report did include the opposing views of the northwesterners, determined to squeeze out any reference to water transfers. There was a more general opposition headed by Saylor on cost, the lack of any long-range plan (even more costly), making the Mexico burden national, the lack of justification for the Colorado 5, and Hooker dam invading the Gila Wilderness. The newspapers opined that none of this had much traction against legislation with such a lengthy and involved history. Anyway, the Hooker question had been compromised in spite of Saylor’s pique. Everybody was surely glad that the Grand Canyon was not looming over them. The lobbying machine, headed by Colorado’s Sparks and Arizona’s Udall became a “massive operation” -- 50 Coloradans were reportedly involved. Sparks was reporting 5-1 in favor of the bill, and there was also a favorable push from California, playing the good guy. Wyoming did stand apart, objecting since the fundamental question of water supply had not been resolved.
Speaking before the Rules Committee, Aspinall cited the Basin agreement that was represented by his committee’s version: It would bring peace to the Colorado River water wars. The Columbia was protected. Nevertheless, the Northwest complained in Rules testimony anyway. Floor debate was set for four hours on 16 May.
From satisfaction, the stories turned to alarm: Saylor would attack the idea of making the Mexican burden a national obligation. The Republicans would cry out about the huge costs. Conservationists, on the other hand, are out of gas over the Grand Canyon, so Hooker dam is safe. (The truth there being that we had already reached Senator Anderson and Congressman Udall with our argument about finding an alternative; which, in the event, has never been needed, and the Gila River flows in its Wilderness undammed.) Nationally, there seemed to be satisfaction with such great controversies resolved.
Just as the Rules Committee was clearing Aspinall’s bill, which Arizonans said was an emphatic yes to Senator Hayden, he announced that he would retire at 90, after 56 years (a record) in the House and Senate. His now-successful 20-year effort for the CAP marked his career as satisfactorily complete.
Rep. Udall thought the debate would only take a day. Saylor, trying to make a mark still, complained that Arizona had given in to California. However, the major decisions made in the past year and a half -- by Democrats, mostly -- had left him with no real battles to fight. Thinking it over, and seeing his often-equivocal relations with Aspinall, I am glad Saylor was not put in the position of leading a “no dams” fight on the floor. All too possibly, Aspinall would have out-foxed, and Udall out-lobbied, him, and a dam might have slipped through.
The news now sounded self-congratulatory, with premature celebrating of the end of basin bickering. Floor action started as Saylor and others lauded Aspinall’s work. With few attending the debate, Aspinall must have appreciated the quiet triumph he desired -- given how much he had given up, as well as achieved. In the end, Saylor did not even offer his alternative bill, and was defeated 89-45 over Hooker dam after Udall announced he had reached agreement with conservationists. The Northwest could not even get a recorded vote on its changes, and Saylor’s attempt to delete a Colorado project failed. With Secretary Udall in the gallery looking on, the bill passed in a “shouting voice vote”. Aspinall called it a “pleasing end”, but did not meet with reporters. Hayden was “quietly pleased”. The conference would still have to deal with the Mexican burden and the study provisions, but no one was predicting trouble. Coverage and comment continued optimistically about a quick, easy wrap-up in a conference.
Afterward, several of the principals received their partisans’ praise. Rep. Udall was knowledgeably recognized by a New Mexican for his handling of Hooker dam, heading off Saylor’s attempt to substitute another named dam downstream (in a part of the Gila that was outside the Wilderness but still too pleasant to be dammed) with language that allowed for a “suitable alternative”. Like no dam at all.
Wrapping the effort up, one writer estimated there were 37 Colorado lobbyists contacting non-Basin state congressmen plus 9 New Mexicans and 5 Utahns. These grass-rooters took over if congressmen failed to follow through. Local newspapers carried ads encouraging people to contact non-Coloradans for support. Rep. Rhodes was tremendously helpful with Republicans. Colorado water people have been working toward getting some bill for 2-3 years, with Sparks as the main coordinator. Overall, it was a six-state (minus Wyoming) effort, organized in detail in Los Angeles in March, though the California delegation “proved to be a big disappointment in vote contacts”, with only a few of the 38 members joining in.
Smooth Sailing To Final Passage? Not So Fast (June-July 1968)
At this point, Aspinall said he would leave the initiative on calling a conference up to the Senate. Seeming out of step with all the House amity, Senator Jackson balked at the augmentation language, declaring the bill “totally unacceptable”. Hayden, Anderson, Allott, Utah’s Bennett, and a few others, on the other hand, indicated their desire to move ahead. California was now thoroughly satisfied because, according to one source, it had reversed the Supreme Court decision, avoiding any loss of water. Aspinall thought Colorado was somewhat protected with its five projects -- though not all have been built.
Jackson and Aspinall met for a “fateful” lunch 28 May. The discussion between “two of the shrewdest bargainers in Congress” was totally secret. Optimism would have been in order if action were resumed on the long-awaited Water Commission bill. Jackson wanted any interbasin plans to be studied by the Commission, while Aspinall had moved to have the Interior Secretary prepare a regional water plan. The papers stirred the pot over what would happen if Jackson were obdurate, while Aspinall talked of having worked eight months to “spot his bear”, ready for the final kill. While Jackson surely was not going to put up with any language he did not like, this moiling around was a bit of a show. Anderson was saying let's talk sense about the House provision for a feasibility study on the Mexican burden to be complete in 1975. Hush-hush dialogue was going on between Jackson and House members Aspinall, Udall, and California’s Johnson. Matters continued thus until mid-June, when it was declared there would be no action until mid-July.
This so-called “tiff” between Jackson and Aspinall involved some written suggestions from Jackson to which Aspinall did not reply, so Jackson thought Aspinall was “stalling”. Jackson had appointed members for a conference on the National Water Commission, but Aspinall said his top priority was the Basin bill. The Arizona delegation got upset at the situation. California said that Colorado was taking a hard line on the contested study. It seemed that a full feasibility study would be dropped. However, Jackson had accepted making the Mexican obligation national. Jackson also wanted to keep Reclamation out of the study arena and to assure area-of-origin control over water import. There could have been no surprises here. The Senate bill, under Jackson, had no study provisions. The House added some, stiffing the Northwest in that body. It had been clear for years that this would be the situation, and Jackson with his allies had led the way to this situation. Aspinall knew there would be a bill, and knew that Jackson would get his way; it was too late to slow down or back-track.
Immovable & Irresistible Blend (July-August 1968)
By 14 July, the “hidden” back-and-forth had concluded; Jackson accepted the Mexican burden would be national (with California talking about using its northern rivers to meet it), and Aspinall gave up on the strong form of a study. Jackson named conferees, opposed to any study. Aspinall still “stalled”, wanting Saylor to be involved, but finally conferees were named for both the Basin and the National Water Commission bills. Arizona congressmen were happier; they had worked hard to overcome the differences. The second of the two bills was agreed to in an hour on 19 July, Jackson and Aspinall in harmony; the Basin bill conference was on 23 July. One newspaper snarked that Aspinall did not even care about the Commission; it was just part of a Jackson strategy.
When the Basin bill conference opened, with all the heavyweights present, plus supporting votes, they promptly declared it closed. Second day: short session of preliminaries. Third day: speeches were made; ready for specifics. Fourth day: growing agreement; meet next week. Then, after a total of eight sessions over two weeks, the bill was approved, 14-1, on 1 August. The only study was of western water resources in general, with a ten-year moratorium on interbasin studies: -- Jackson victory.
The bill adopted carried Hayden’s number, S.1004. Arizona got its 3000 cfs aqueduct and pre-paid pumping power from a non-Federal coal-fired plant. Colorado’s five projects were authorized. Satisfying part (not all) of the Mexican share of the Colorado River would become a national obligation (= funding). California would always be guaranteed at least 4.4 maf from the Colorado. Utah received authorization for two projects. Hayden noted that the “scenic values” from Glen to Hoover dams would be preserved by a prohibition on dams licensed by the Federal Power Commission.
The negative vote was Saylor’s--kind of sad, that. Although his ability to marshal opposition had never been tested, he was part of the story; he could have joined the parade. Newspaper analysis did not get everything right, but the general tone was positive, Jackson even called the conferees “generous” about his concerns. Aspinall was pleased with this basin-wide success, though compared to the kitchen-sink bill of 1966, this “great victory for the Northwest” (Jackson) was a stinging defeat for those who feared shortages and believed in endless growth for the Southwest. Feeling “very tired”, Rep. Udall complained about final action being put off until after Labor Day. Utah and Wyoming complained. There were few references to the dam fight, bitter and/or insightful.
And The Deed is Done (September 1968)
The House took up the bill first, 5 September, and passed it on a voice vote, Aspinall calling it “a dream come true”. One newspaper even credited him with “rescuing” the bill. A new era of water cooperation, said some. The Northwesterners supported it. Negative noises were few. The water commission was also approved.
The Senate acted 12 September, after a few hours of discussion, Jackson calling it a constructive solution to a difficult problem, including the CAP without the Colorado River dams, a development fund, the Colorado 5, guidelines for Hoover/Glen operation, long-range water studies with deferral of import studies, 1.5 maf of the Mexican obligation resting on the nation. Allott, negative to the end, took an hour going on about not getting a big dam or a real study. Hayden said he would ask for money to begin planning, toot sweet, although there was much muttering about the already-existing big backlog in projects to be constructed.
And finally, 30 September 1968, President Johnson, with hundreds present, signed the Colorado River Basin Project Act. He had signed the National Water Commission bill a few days earlier. He spent more time celebrating the Grand Canyon being saved than he did on the authorized projects. He saved his most robust paean for Hayden. He praised Jackson and Aspinall; neither was there. Neither were we.
Thank you for your attention.
The Thing Itself
For those with documentary curiosity, Reclamation has a copy of the law:
It has 16 pages, and six titles. Title VI has the sweet spot; otherwise, victory for the Grand Canyon lies in what is not in the Act.
TITLE 1 – COLORADO RIVER BASIN PROJECT; OBJECTIVES
TITLE II – INVESTIGATIONS AND PLANNING
TITLE III–AUTHORIZED UNITS: PROTECTION OF EXISTING USES
TITLE IV–LOWER COLORADO RIVER BASIN DEVELOPMENT FUND: ALLOCATION AND REPAYMENT OF COSTS: CONTRACTS
TITLE V– UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN; AUTHORIZATIONS AND REIMBURSEMENTS
TITLE VI–GENERAL PROVISIONS: DEFINITIONS: CONDITIONS
A Note on Sources
Although I have many items in my files that may illuminate this or that event, I did not keep the kind of detailed journal that I was wise enough to write for the 1972-5 history of the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act. Too bad; I have learned the tempting pitfalls that memory provides for when I was active. Moreover, in 1963-5, I was way on the periphery; so have few first-hand sources. In this long essay, I used media reports, mainly regional newspapers. My introductory essay, is here http://gcfutures.blogspot.com/2017/02/introduction-to-crossroads-in-american.html
Appendix: Glossary of persons, abbreviations, terms, objects referred to
Allott & Kuchel, Senators from Colorado & California respectively; principal opponents of the Hayden-Jackson CAP initiative
Anderson, Clinton Senator from New Mexico; chair of Reclamation Subcommittee
Aspinall, Wayne Representative from west side of Colorado, Democrat. Chair of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee
Brower, David Executive Director of the Sierra Club. One of many conservationist groups; leading on the dams issue.
CAP Central Arizona Project A Reclamation project to take Colorado River water from that river downstream of Hoover/Parker dams and bring it in an aqueduct to the population centers of Phoenix and Tucson
California guarantee 4.4 million acre feet. This state wanted to insure that, even if there were shortages, it would get 4.4 maf of the Colorado’s flow each year
Colorado Five Reclamation projects that Aspinall wanted to insure that his state had a claim on its share of the Colorado.
Committees Each House of Congress had an Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, with a Subcommittee on Reclamation/Irrigation.
After passage of bills in each House, a Conference would be set up to reconcile differences between the bills.
Colorado River; its Basin, including the seven southwestern states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, New Mexico,& Utah
Conservationists (later, environmentalists) Also dam opponents, advocates for the Grand Canyon. General term for those opposing authorization of the Dams
Dams The two high concrete hydroelectric dams that Reclamation proposed to build in the Grand Canyon, one in the upper, Marble, stretch; the larger downstream near a tributary called Bridge Canyon.
Grand Canyon You have to ask? Go visit.
H.R. 4671 the number of the bill that Congressman Udall was building in 1965-6, to shepherd through the House the bundle of compromises necessary to get agreement for the CAP
Hayden, Carl Serving in Congress since statehood, senior Arizona Senator; Chair of Appropriations Committee
Hooker dam Proposed for the Gila River in New Mexico, it became an issue because it would have drowned a stretch of the river inside the Gila Wilderness, America’s first
Hualapai The tribe of Indians, the northern boundary of whose reservation was the Colorado River, so that the lower Grand Canyon dam and its reservoir were partially on Hualapai land
Jackson, Henry Senator, Washington State; Chair, Interior and Insular Affairs Committee
Johnson, Lyndon, President of the United States, 1963-69
Maf million acre-feet. Standard measure of water in these debates: One acre-foot is water one foot deep over one acre. And even at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, thats a flood.
National Water Commission a proposed body (by Senator Jackson and Secretary Udall) to study all the nation’s water problems.
Northwest general term for the states in the northwest of the United States drained by the Columbia River and its tributaries.
PSWWP Pacific SouthWest Water Plan, a grand plan put forth by the Johnson Administration in 1963, aimed at ending the area’s potential water shortages far into the future
“Reader’s Digest” mass circulation magazine that carried an article by Richard Bradley, originally in “Audubon Magazine”, arguing against the dams
Reclamation refers to both the federal Bureau of, and to the concepts and legal apparatus for delivering water to the West’s arable land and its residents. F. Dominy was the bureau’s chief.
Saylor, John Representative from Pennsylvania, Republican and senior member of the Interior Committee; long-time fighter on conservationist issues
Sierra Club Organization active in advocacy for Parks, Wilderness, and general concern for the environment. Executive Director: David Brower
Sparks, Felix chief water bureaucrat for Colorado
Udall, Morris Representative from southern Arizona, member of Interior Committee (also congressman, or Cong. or Rep.)
Udall, Stewart Secretary of the Interior, 1961-9