It’s time to talk about draining Lake Powell

Sep 11, 2023

As the Bureau of Reclamation works toward a 2026 plan for managing the Colorado River, a scenario that has long been favored by environmental advocates but dismissed as impossible is now being discussed across the West: draining Lake Powell and returning Glen Canyon to its natural state.

Last week, two high-profile California farmers from the powerful Imperial Valley formally requested a study on decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam—letting the Colorado River flow straight into the Grand Canyon and on to Lake Mead, which is barely one-third full after years of drought and over-use.

“Past proposals by environmental groups to decommission Glen Canyon Dam or to operate the reservoir without power production as a primary goal can no longer be ignored and must be seriously considered,” Michael and James Abattis wrote. “The evaporative losses occurring in Lake Powell are significant, given the demands on the Colorado River system, and must be taken into account.”

The Arizona Daily Star reports that water agencies from the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California are urging the Bureau of Reclamation to study modifications to Glen Canyon Dam so it can avoid “deadpool,” a scenario in which water levels drop so low the dam can no longer generate electricity or release water.

The fact that major water users are now encouraging the government to consider significant changes to the Colorado River system is a “huge game changer,” according to retired Utah State University professor Jack Schmidt, who led the university’s Center for Colorado River Studies.

“The paradigm of the American West has always been the maintenance of the facilities that were constructed” on the river, said Schmidt. “It was considered complete heresy and no one in the water supply community would have ever have acknowledged or accepted the notion of decommissioning the dam.”

Quick hits

GAO report details how Trump border wall harmed landscapes, wildlife, cultural sites

Border Report | Associated Press

As Burning Man begins muddy cleanup efforts on BLM land, its climate reckoning has begun

Gizmodo | Nevada Independent | The New Yorker | NPR | New York Times

Can alfalfa survive a fight over Colorado River water?

E&E News

Opinion: Conservation purchase in Utah protects Bears Ears from trophy homes

Durango Herald

Enviro groups challenge logging plan adjacent to Yellowstone

Montana Free Press

4,000 new acres of public land will expand recreational access along the John Day River


Podcast: Why a proposed marine sanctuary could make history

NPR Short Wave

BLM has a plan to tackle booming recreation—at least in theory

High Country News

Quote of the day

These playas weren’t formed in a day. If they get torn up, they may restore themselves, but it may take a while. It’s going to be a real challenge to assess what those impacts are going to be and what the best way to mitigate it is.”

—University of Nevada, Reno Associate Professor Paul Verburg, Nevada Independent

Picture This

The head of a tortoise. Its mouth is bright red.


Let’s talk about the real desert chic: prickly pear cactus fruit lipstick! 💄

The beloved Mojave Desert tortoise enjoys a simple diet of wildflowers, grasses and, of course, the delectable prickly pear fruit.

These threatened tortoises travel long distances in search of food and water and will cross highways through their territory. Please slow your roll and keep an eye out for them as they are crossing the road, especially during rainy weather. Tortoises are attracted to puddles that form on roadways during rainstorms. 🐢

Photo at Red Cliffs National Conservation Area by John Kellam / @utahpubliclands


Featured image: Glen Canyon Dam. Photo: Adbar, CC BY-SA 3.0