Priorities of Glen Canyon Dam as stated in the Colorado River Basin Act of 1968

From the beginning of the dam's creation, there have been conflicts over what has priority in the maintenance of the water flow out of Glen Canyon Dam. In 1968, the Colorado River Basin Act mandated the priorities of the Glen Canyon Dam, but these have not always been followed. (1)The first priority was that the dam should deliver the correct amount of water per year to the lower basin states and Mexico. (2) Second, the dam was in charge of flood control. (3) Third, the dam should act as a water storage facility. (4) Fourth, the dam should act to meet environmental and recreational needs. (5) Finally, the dam should be used to produce power generation, but only as an incidental objective (Carothers and Brown, 1991).

Changing Control over the Dam

Initially, the Bureau of Reclamation within the US Department of Interior was in charge of operating and maintaining the dam and marketing its hydropower. In 1957, the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) of the Department of Energy took responsibility over the marketing and selling of the hydropower under the Department of Energy Organization Act. The Bureau of Reclamation was left with the responsibility of operating and maintaining the dam. The responsibilities of releasing the water include the release of 8.23 million acre feet of water annually, scheduling monthly releases of water, determining the upper limit of the amount of water that can be released in an instant, and finally reaching agreements with the National Park Service concerning the water needs of recreationists. As the dam produces forty billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, the primary concern in decisions regarding water release are actually made by WAPA instead of the Bureau of Reclamation. The day-to-day releases of water are made during times of peak electricity use in order to maximize revenues. Thus, there is a very large amount of fluctuation in the river level on a daily basis (Carothers and Brown, 1991).

Competing Interests

Many other groups are involved with the dam. The National Park Service's goal is to preserve the dam and enrich recreation both on Lake Powell and the Colorado River. One of their main concerns is the fluctuating water levels on the Colorado that make rafting difficult. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is working to meet the needs of migratory and endangered species, while the Colorado River Electrical Distributors Association's goal is to maintain maximum levels of power. In additon, the Arizona Game and Fish Department supports sport fishing and focuses on the needs of the wildlife.

There is no clear agreement on the priorities and hierarchy of power for the Glen Canyon Dam, despite those stated in the Colorado Basin Act of 1968. The Secretary of the Interior is the legal "water master" of the Colorado River, so water and power interests tend to dominate all others when making decisions about flow rates (Carothers and Brown, 1991). In effect, the wildlife and recreational needs of the dam are subordinated to the needs for electrical power.

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