The Sierra Club told Congress on Tuesday that it ought to drain Lake Powell, the second-largest man-made lake in America. The proposal was met with protests that loomed like the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam that holds the lake in northwestern Arizona.
The Sierra environmentalists want to drain the 250-square-mile lake and dismantle the dam just upstream on the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon. Their goal is to help restore the area’s environment.
But representatives of state governments, electric power providers, the Navajo Nation and the tourist industry lined up at a congressional subcommittee meeting to denounce the plan and argue that the Sierra Club’s goals are unachievable.
Melvin Bautista, natural resources executive director for the Navajo Nation, said that draining the lake would destroy the Navajos’ economy, eliminating a necessary water reservoir for coal-burning power plants and coal mines and jeopardizing agribusiness.
Bautista said the Navajo generating station near the dam employs 1,200 members of the nation’s largest Native American group.
He said the Sierra proposal would destroy a water supply system “crafted by many decades of planning and social compromise for the sake of a myopic, selfish, impractical environmental deal.”
Joseph Hunter, executive director of the Colorado River Energy Distribution Association, a conglomerate of nonprofit power distributors, said the Southwest could not get along without the electricity from the dam.
He argued that both the cost and the environmental impact of additional coal power plants would be unacceptable. Hunter also said the dam’s power revenue helps repay the federal government for construction of the dam.
Lake Powell has created a booming tourist economy, bringing in a half-billion dollars each year to the local economy, centered on Page, Ariz. Each year, an estimated 2.5 million people visit the lake, which extends from northern Arizona into southern Utah.
Sierra Club executives and their environmental allies said cold water released from the lake is disrupting the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon and the trapping of silt behind the dam is preventing the renewal of beaches in the Grand Canyon.
Before the dam was completed in 1963, water temperature in the Colorado fluctuated, but now it is a constant 46 degrees downstream from the dam. That change has put several species of fish, including squawfish and the razorback sucker, on the endangered list.