State Capitol News
5:09 pm
Mon August 13, 2012

Federal Court Rejects Annual Glen Canyon Assessment

A federal appeals court on Monday rejected a bid by the Grand Canyon Trust to force annual environmental assessments on operation of the Glen Canyon Dam.

The fight stems from the fact that the dam, finished in 1963, altered the Colorado River, trapping sediment and releasing colder water downstream. The result has affected the endangered humpback chub which does well in warmer water. And it has meant changes in the sand bars that used to build up and get washed away seasonally. Attorneys for the trust argued that the Bureau of Reclamation which operates the dam needs to do an environmental assessment for each year's plans on when and how it intends to release water. The appellate judges, however, said that is not only not legally required but unduly cumbersome. But trust attorney Neil Levine said there was one small victory in the ruling: The judges vacated a lower court order which threw out a broader challenge to the whole operating scheme.

"So we're kind of looking at the opinion as a whole as saying just roll up your sleeves and we're going to get back to work on seeing how we can change operations so it's better for the chub and the downstream resources including beach habitat which provides places for rafters and boaters," Levine said.

The dam is currently operated to maximize energy production to meet peak needs, which means heavy releases in summer and winter. The trust wants to mimic the natural flow of the river, which would be very heavy spring runoff with lower flows in summer and fall. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer