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By on February 14th, 2022 in Disruption vs. Renewal of Natural Processes, Featured

Contest Launches to “Re-Engineer” Glen Canyon Dam, Rewild the Colorado River

On February 7, 2022, a group of conservationists announced a contest to “re-engineer” Glen Canyon Dam and rewild the Colorado River. Called “Rewilding The Colorado River” – at the website RewildingColoradoRiver.org – the contest is an outgrowth of the “Dam The Status Quo” conference held in Dec. 2021 sponsored by former Nevada State Senator and current Clark County Commissioner, Tick Segerblom.

The contest is seeking “engineering alternatives for Glen Canyon Dam that would allow for a ‘run of river’ flow regime through or around Glen Canyon Dam.” The contest is open to engineering students and firms across the U.S. and currently includes $4,000 prize money to the winning proposal.

“Glen Canyon Dam should never have been built – let’s start designing the solution to rewild the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon,” said Segerblom who is a sponsor of the contest and who has advocated for removing the dam for many years, including sponsoring a bill in the Nevada legislature to study draining Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam.

Climate change and overuse of Colorado River water have brought the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead to historic lows. As stakeholders of the Colorado River Basin rush to find solutions to address the western water crisis, calls to phase out Lake Powell reservoir have grown louder. With Lake Powell at 27% of its storage capacity, and downstream Lake Mead at 30% capacity, there is no longer enough water to fill either reservoir, and the intended purpose of Glen Canyon Dam, to store excess water, is significantly less applicable to today’s hydrology as well as all future predictions of hydrology.

Re-engineering Glen Canyon Dam to reconnect and rewild the Colorado River through Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon could have vast benefits to the ecosystems of Glen and Grand Canyons. Further, alternatives to Colorado River management that no longer rely on, or use, Lake Powell could negate the need to make large leases or purchases of farm water in the Upper or Lower Basin simply to try and save Lake Powell.

“I’m thrilled to be a sponsor and advocate for the effort to decommission Glen Canyon Dam and rewild the Colorado River,” said Dan Beard, one of the contest sponsors. “We need the best and brightest ideas from the next generation to address this problem. That is why this engineering contest is so important.” Beard is a former Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation appointed by President Clinton, and he is the author of the 2015 book, Deadbeat Dams: Why we need to abolish the Bureau of Reclamation and tear down Glen Canyon Dam.

The contest will evaluate proposals based on criteria including cost-effectiveness, public safety, sediment flow, recreation, possible hydropower production, fish migration upstream and downstream, and habitat restoration in Glen and Grand Canyons. The contest purposely mirrors similar “prize competitions” held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to “spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional solver community” that “complement traditional research and target Reclamation’s most persistent science and technology challenges.”

The contest is accepting donations to increase the $4,000 prize money. The contest closes on Nov. 15, 2022. Winners will be announced at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Dec. 15, 2022.

More quotes from contest sponsors:

“In 1983 we found out Glen Canyon Dam couldn’t be managed to bypass a big snow melt and in 2022 we discovered it can’t be responsive to acute aridity. So like all things that will not perform as expected, it’s time to put this underachiever into permanent retirement.” –John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper

“I dipped a mayonnaise jar into the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch on August 14, 1963. By September it sat in my 8th grade science classroom one third silt and two thirds water. Eliot Porter, the “color” Ansel Adams of the 20th century, rafted Glen Canyon in 1960. Sierra Club published his photographs in the coffee table book The Place No One Knew in 1963. Lake Powell began to fill on September 13, 1963. Today Earth is on the cusp of getting its most beautiful canyon back. I will rest in peace and Eliot is stirring in his grave.” –John Fielder, Nature Photographer

“With a precarious future at bay, we hope this incentivizes and propels healthy discussion about the future on the river. Mother Nature or the government may decommission the dam, and we have to be prepared for any situation.” –Kyle Roerink of Great Basin Water Network

“The Grand Canyon is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Rewilding the Colorado River through Glen and Grand Canyons will celebrate this beauty, restore the canyons’ delicate ecology, and inspire generations of Americans to witness Nature’s wonder and awe.” –Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado

“If we’re only a few bad winters away from reaching dead pool at Lake Powell, it’s imperative we look at reengineering Glen Canyon Dam now. This is the reality before us.” ” –Eric Balken of Glen Canyon Institute

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Helen McGinnis - February 18, 2022

Wonderful! At age 83, I am one of the decreasing number of people who experienced the Glen Canyon before it was flooded. The trips I went on were organized by the late Phil Pennington. Below is a link to some of his photos. I can be recognized by my torn white shirt. https://www.glencanyon.org/phil-pennington/

Next: Drain Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park!

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