The Glen Canyon Institute describes itself as dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River to their natural states prior to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and the filling of Lake Powell.
While the institute’s primary focus is on Arizona and Utah, one of its ideas for changes would have significant impact on Nevada, where the Las Vegas water agencies continue to press for access to groundwater from four valleys in rural Nevada, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
The institute has an acronym for it: FMF, which stands for Fill Mead First.
Their objective is to lower Lake Powell, thereby uncovering natural and cultural sites. This also would speed up the flow of the Colorado River and restore the ecology of the Grand Canyon. The 710-foot dam changes that ecology by stopping the river’s warm, silt-laden flow, instead releasing a colder, clearer flow.
But the ancillary benefit is that it could add as much as 300,000 acre-feet of water — which is equal to Nevada’s entire annual allotment from the Colorado River — to Lake Mead by cutting the water lost in Lake Powell due to evaporation and seepage into the banks of the lake.
The Glen Canyon Institute bases this on research by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers, who found that 260,000 to 390,000 acre-feet of water seeps into the banks of Lake Powell annually, which the Bureau of Reclamation, the manager of the river, fails to take into account.
While the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan is to spend $15 billion to obtain 84,000 acre-feet of rural groundwater, the cost of filling Mead first is nil. The plan requires no new facilities to be built, and no changes in the laws or compacts regulating the river, just a change in bureaucratic policy.
A year ago the Bureau of Reclamation reported that by 2060 the demand for Colorado River water will exceed supply by 3.2 million acre-feet. One reason is that the river currently supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to San Diego, but that population is estimated to nearly double to 76.5 million by 2060.
The proposal to Fill Mead First is cheap, easily accomplished and entirely reversible if circumstances change.