The Colorado River Commission of Nevada unanimously voted this week to intervene into a lawsuit between the U.S. Department of the Interior and a group of environmental activists led by the nonprofit Save the Colorado River.
The lawsuit alleges the department, in drafting a long-term plan for the Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, did not fully consider the impacts of climate change, including science that shows the flow of the Colorado River will not be enough to keep Glen Canyon Dam operational. The department denies this charge.
The Colorado River Commission’s intervention in the lawsuit does not mean it is being sued as well. It allows the entity to take part in some of the proceedings, including any possible negotiations.
The final environmental impact statement for the plan was released in October 2016. The Colorado River Commission of Nevada, along with multiple other agencies like the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Colorado River Board of California, were involved in the plan’s drafting.
According to a presentation at the Colorado River Commission meeting, the plan is designed to protect resources downstream from the dam, conserve endangered species, work to “avoid or mitigate” impacts to cultural and environmental resources, and protect Native American interests.
The dam, which sits 710 feet above the canyon’s bedrock, creates about 5 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric energy annually. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household uses 10,972 kilowatt hours annually.
Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the department and others did not take all information into account when developing the plan.
“They tried to evaluate the operation of the dam in isolation,” Silver said. “(They) tried to pretend that nothing else is happening around it.”
The ongoing drought, Silver said, will eventually make maintaining both Lake Powell and Lake Mead unfeasible.
“It isn’t going to work if you want to keep Mead full,” he said.
The plaintiffs claim the department also did not fully analyze alternatives to the plan, including a full decommissioning of the Glen Canyon Dam.
In an October press release announcing the lawsuit, Dan Beard, the former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, called Glen Canyon Dam the “dinosaur of the dam world.”
“We need to prepare for unprecedented low flow conditions on the Colorado River in the coming years that would drain Lake Powell,” Beard said. “The time has come for the dam to be decommissioned and torn down.”