Letter to the Editor: The flaws of ‘Fill Mead First’

LETTER TO THE EDITOR – Glen Canyon Institute (GCI) 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 last 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 would also 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 last 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.

Submitted by: Ron Thompson, general manager, Washington County Water Conservancy District, and Don Christiansen, general manager, Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

Author’s resources and sources 

  • http://www.glencanyon.org/about/who-we-are
  • http://www.water.utah.gov/Reports/MUNICIPAL%20AND%20INDUSTRIAL%20WATER%20USE%20in%20UTAH.pdf, p. 3
  • Dennis Strong, Director of Utah Division of Water Resources
  • Glen Canyon Institute press release, “Lake Powell’s Banks Lose Vast Amounts of Water,” June 28, 2013
  • Don Ostler, Executive Director and Secretary for the Upper Colorado River Commission
  • “Water Stability in Washington County, Utah,” Applied Analysis, May 23,2013
  • Philip Solomon, Energy Services Director, City of St. George, UT
  • National Park Service press release, “Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Rainbow Bridge Creates $238 million in Local Economic Benefit,” Feb. 26, 2013

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  • Greta Hyland September 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    But building a pipeline that may strap Utahan’s with a crippling debt for promised water that might not be there is not only dishonest, it is also not putting Utah first either. When water is used as bait only to benefit bankers, land owners, and water managers, it is greed at its best. Stacking huge impact fees onto development will hurt young families and first time home buyers, which may in the end be the point in order to curtail growth, and it will hurt people who already can’t afford to live here. I don’t know how you can claim the pipeline will be good for the economy when it will increase water bills, increase taxes, and increase impact fees. What would be really great is if the WCWCD could start being honest about the pipeline by giving us the good and the bad of getting it and not getting it. Any intellectually honest person knows that anytime someone proposes something that only has benefits with doomsday consequences if it is not adopted, is selling something. There are always pros and cons to every thing. Telling us the pipeline is great without getting into the real costs and possible worst case scenarios treats us like we are all stupid. Please, WCWCD, start talking to us like we are thinking, rational adults; otherwise, you risk looking like used car salesmen trying to sell us a lemon.

  • Steve October 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Yes, please, WCWCD, start talking to us like we are thinking, rational adults; otherwise, you risk looking like used car salesmen trying to sell us a lemon. Amen and amen.

  • Brian Homerguy July 14, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Lake Powell is filling with silt. In a few years it will just be sand. Best thing to do would be to just remove the … dam.
    Ed. ellipsis.

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