The Show on KJZZ

Listen live weekdays at 9 a.m.

Bypassing Glen Canyon Dam, once considered a radical idea, is becoming mainstream

By Ron Dungan
Published: Tuesday, September 5, 2023 - 5:35pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 5, 2023 - 5:43pm

Glen Canyon Dam
U.S. Department of Energy
Glen Canyon Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation is analyzing future operations of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

The Colorado River reservoir is facing record low water levels that threaten the current system, and conservationists are proposing a work-around: a tunnel to bypass the dam.

Last year, analysts warned that if water levels got much lower, the turbines that generate power at Glen Canyon Dam could be damaged.

The only other way to release water is through outlet pipes below the turbines, which were not built to withstand daily use.

'We have to be planning for how to get water around Glen Canyon Dam'

In a brief but detailed letter, Arizona and the other Lower Basin states recently urged the Bureau to consider a number of steps, including a bypass tunnel. Some Imperial Valley farmers, who irrigate with Colorado River water, weighed in with a similar message. 

Gary Wockner, of Save the Colorado, said that message, once considered a radical idea, is becoming more mainstream.

"If climate scientists are right, that the water supply is going to go even lower, then we have to be planning for how to get water around Glen Canyon Dam," Wockner said.

He says that building the tunnel could take about a decade.

"So, if you think you’re gonna need it, you better start, you better start building. You better start digging holes, and tunneling, because you know we were on the brink of disaster, just nine months ago," he said.

More stories from KJZZ

Sustainability Environment Utilities Water