Best of 2023: 'Addition by Subtraction?' by David Cavena

David Cavena29 Dec, 2023 3 Min Read
Who needs the Glen Canyon Dam?

America is in the midst of a war on dams. In the past few years, well over a thousand dams have been removed, and we're currently demolishing between fifty and sixty per year. Now there's talk of removing one of the biggest, Glen Canyon Dam, which backs-up northern Arizona's Lake Powell, on the Colorado River, the second-largest reservoir in America.

There are a number of reasons this is happening. Age is one -- more than 85 percent of dams in the U.S. are over fifty years old, and the cost of maintaining or replacing them is exorbitant. But environmentalists, who view dams as an unwelcome intrusion of man into the natural world, are a major driver of the trend. That fact will understandably make conservatives wary. But removing Glen Canyon Dam might be one of those serendipitous moments in which the goods of modernity and the goals of the “climate change” cohort converge.

The ongoing drought is a big issue here in the Southwest. There are constant attempts to pin it on “climate change,” but without much success. As even NIDIS, the governmental body which monitors and manages droughts, admits, “droughts that may last several years to even decades occur naturally in the southwestern U.S.”

While the end may be in sight for the current drought due to higher than expected snowpack levels in Colorado, it remains the case that reservoir evaporation from Lake Powell is estimated to cost about 386,000 acre-feet (126 billion gallons) of water per year. Evaporated water does not provide renewable power, agriculture, or water to the expanding regional populations; it’s just gone. Moreover, the clean hydroelectric energy -- one of the rare, generally reliable energy sources the Greens support --  generated by Glen Canyon Dam is in danger of failing due to the shrinking reservoir.

Safe, clean, and above all, reliable.

The states dependent on the Colorado need the water, which can be pulled directly from the river without the evaporative loss, more than they need the dam. Water for agriculture is pulled directly from the river today upstream from Lake Powell. But if the dam is removed, how might the hydroelectric energy (1.3GW, 5TwH) it produces be replaced? That is an important question, and because they're so involved in the push to get rid of the dam the "climate change" crowd is currently driving the conversation of what should replace it. They've got their bleeding hearts set on wind-and-solar.

A better option, which should satisfy all parties, is nuclear power. That would provide a continued source of baseload power and, unlike the Lefties' proposals, will avoid grid frequency concerns and costs, prevent the irresponsible killing of migratory birds, and help to end clear-cutting old-growth forests for wind farms.

Nuclear is not reliant on Goldilocks wind speeds or sunshine: windmills do not work in too little, and often do not survive, too much wind, and solar farms do not work in too little or too much sun, to say nothing of a hailstorm or a tornado, or the destruction of millions of acres of natural habitat and resident wildlife to site them. Do we really need to kill the planet to save it?

We could use this dam opportunity to advance the goals of Team Environment, Team Clean & Green, all while providing equal or more electricity, less-expensively, to current and future users. For those of us who enjoy the outdoors, the opportunities created by removal of this dam also include recovering what Edward Abbey called "a portion of earth's original paradise," and removing what David Brower called “America’s most regrettable environmental mistake.” All it takes is a nuke.

David Cavena is a native southern Californian exfiltrated to Arizona. An IT professional for 40 years, he has pushed cows in California, dudes and horses in Wyoming, and programmers in Los Angeles and Phoenix. An avid outdoorsman – skier, backpacker, water skier and scuba diver – David writes from Arizona.


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