October 7, 2013

Fill Mead first idea has big flaws


by Ron Thompson and Don Christiansen
Utah Voices -- The Spectrum

The Glen Canyon Institute is advocating Fill Mead First, a proposal to send water from Lake Powell to fill Lake Mead’s current water deficiency of 13.81 million acre feet.

That amount of water would completely drain Lake Powell, a primary goal of GCI, which is “dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and a free flowing Colorado River.” In other words, GCI wants us to surrender enough water to sustain the entire state of Utah’s consumptive use for more than five years.

Lake Powell storage protects the water source for millions of residents in the upper basin states: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. In addition, the reservoir allows the upper basin states to store the water required by the 1922 Colorado River Compact to be released for use by the lower basin states: Nevada, Arizona and California.

If we couldn’t deliver the required 7.5 million acre feet of water on a 10-year rolling average, upper basin water use would be curtailed and restricted, drought protection would be sacrificed, and the downstream flow requirements would be compromised.

For decades, because of the storage in Lake Powell, the lower basin states have received significantly more than the minimum required by the compact, averaging 8.8 million acre feet during the past 15 years. The lower basin diverts an average of 9.5 million acre feet of water from Lake Mead every year, which continuously lowers lake levels.

GCI claims Fill Mead First would prevent water losses from seepage (bank storage) at Lake Powell. In reality, nearly 200,000 acre feet of the allegedly lost water is returned to the river and sent down to the lower basin.

Lake Powell is an essential, well-functioning reservoir that provides a critical service to all dependent on the Colorado River. We can’t afford to sacrifice this resource to serve a false agenda.

Fill Mead First also would cause catastrophic economic consequences to the upper basin states. According to some estimates, 13.81 million acre feet of water would support nearly 1.4 million businesses, more than 15 million employees and generate more than $1.25 trillion in personal income. It would also forfeit power generation revenues at Glen Canyon Dam, which have produced more than $370 million during the past three years. Add in the 2.3 million annual visitors to Lake Powell who spend $238 million in nearby communities and support 2,819 jobs, and the situation becomes even more dire.

Utah has a legal right to its share of the Colorado River to support current and future generations. Any organization that would advocate otherwise clearly doesn’t have Utah’s best interest in mind.

Ron Thompson is general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, and Don
Christiansen is general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.