Proposal to fill Lake Mead by draining Lake Powell gets growing support and opposition

Proposal to fill Lake Mead by draining Lake Powell gets growing support and opposition
Proposal to fill Lake Mead by draining Lake Powell gets growing support and opposition(FOX5)
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 6:55 AM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - There is growing support as well as growing opposition for a radical proposal to conserve water along the Colorado River: Filling Lake Mead and draining Lake Powell.

The Bureau of Reclamation accepted public comment on measures for the future of the Colorado River past 2026. In addition to more than 20,000 comments, there are hundreds of letters from government agencies, non-profits and other entities weighing in on various solutions.

Las Vegas Water Defender was one of nine organizations that signed a joint letter to urge the following action or review: “bypass or decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam.” “Reclamation can no longer pan as taboo or radical a reservoir management system that entirely abandons reservoir storage in Lake Powell. It is in the mainstream channels of academic research, scholarship and discourse,” the letter states.

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom signed the document on behalf of Las Vegas Water Defender, and said he has been advocating for the proposal to tear down Glen Canyon Dam and drain Lake Powell for some time.

It’s gone beyond the crazy environmentalists to business people. Obviously, they have an interest in having water. When you when you finally look at the basis for the Dam and the Lake, we realize that it never should have been built. If we get rid of it, that’s going to give us more water in the bottom states,” Segerblom said. Some farmers in California are advocating for the proposal.

Segerblom also echoed a growing concern about the possibility of “deadpool” in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead; once water stops flowing freely through the Colorado River, both the Glen Canyon Dam and the Hoover Dam become inoperable and threaten power for millions across the Southwest.

“There’s a room for one lake and one dam and that should be Lake Mead and Hoover Dam,” Segerblom said.

FOX5 first told you about the Fill Mead First proposal by the Glen Canyon Institute. The Institute, Segerblom and other organizations argue that the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell has been historically detrimental to the Grand Canyon ecosystem, and the dam has become less effective with shrinking water across the Colorado River. The more significant Hoover Dam, the Institute argues, could manage supplying the power grid instead. Lake Powell has also experienced serious drops in its waterways, rendering some boat ramps unusable.

Various supporters also said a “one reservoir” solution would lessen the impact of “evaporation” as water travels through the Colorado River.

Organizations like the Blue Ribbon Coalition advocate for keeping both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and maintaining the network established for decades throughout the Colorado River system.

“People are very fired up about this issue. We’re fighting for all the Colorado River Basin States,” said Executive Director Ben Burr. “We oppose the any plan to drain Lake Powell. Having two very large reservoirs helps the Bureau of Reclamation stabilize the system. Just for the sheer purpose of water availability, having both reservoirs is better,” Burr said.

“If I was a farmer in California, and I had to choose between having 27 million acre feet of storage up river, or 46 million acre feet of storage of river, I would choose the higher number,” Burr said, noting the security in two reservoirs instead of one.

Burr calls for this alternative: state and local governments to implement stringent measures for water conservation, thereby maintaining water levels in both reservoirs.

“We believe Las Vegas has taken some of the best proactive steps to get by with the least amount of water they possibly can. I would like to see all communities in the West following that leadership,” he said.

Eliminating Lake Powell would eliminate the direct water source for millions of people in the Phoenix area, Burr said, and also decimate the water recreation industry in Page, Arizona.

Burr said during low water years, Lake Powell power lost $207 million over two years, and Lake Mead lost $114 million of economic activity.

“All that sustains a vibrant recreation economy,” he said. “Let’s mobilize the recreation users to have a voice in this process and be part of the discussion about how these reservoirs should be managed,” Burr said.

Segerblom disagrees with the economic impact, noting that there can be a greater pivot to land recreation once water is removed.

“It’s going to re-wild Grand Canyon,” he said.

FOX5 has emailed the Bureau of Reclamation for a response for the “filling Lake Mead and draining Lake Powell” proposal, and has not heard back.

Input from organizations and individuals will be posted here: Scoping Input Summary | Bureau of Reclamation (