Historic Opposition to Glen Canyon Dam
The proposal to dam Glen Canyon launched an opposition
from its very beginning, in the early 1950's, but this opposition
was overshadowed at first by the debate over Echo Park.
When first introduced in Congress, the Colorado River
Storage Project legislation contained provisions to build a dam
at Echo Park, in Dinosaur National Monument (as well as Glen Canyon,
Flaming Gorge, and about ten other sites). It was the proposal to
build a dam inside a unit of the National Park System, however,
that sparked a national debate. For six years, the Sierra Club,
the Wilderness Society, and a coalition of environmental groups
from around the nation worked to defeat the Echo Park proposal,
and they eventually won. The success of the battle to save Echo
Park was galvanizing-- historians mark the Echo Park debate as the
birth of the modern environmental movement in the United States.
Having achieved victory at Echo Park, however, it
soon became clear to many that Glen Canyon, though not a part of
the park system, was a place of undeniable beauty, worthy of protection
in its own right. Among those who came to this realization was David
Brower, then-Executive Director of the Sierra Club, who felt a sense
of personal responsibility for the Glen's loss.
(It should be noted that there was never a "trade"
of Echo Park for Glen Canyon. Glen Canyon was always in the CRSP
legislation, and the objective of the Sierra Club and its coalition
during the CRSP debate was the defeat of the Echo Park proviso,
and not the legislation itself.)
Even in the 1950's, however, there was a movement
to save the Glen. In 1954, a group of environmentalists in Utah,
led by Ken Sleight, formed the Friends of Glen Canyon, whose objective
was to revive a near-forgotten 1938 proposal for a national monument
that would encompass Glen Canyon and much of the Escalante region.
Amidst the clamor of the Echo Park debate, unfortunately, their
voice went unheeded.
Yet Lake Powell continued to raise controversy. In
1970, Friends of the Earth and Ken Sleight sued the federal government
for allowing the waters of the reservoir to enter nearby Rainbow
Bridge National Monument, in violation of the CRSP. The court sided
with the environmentalists, but Congress responded by removing the
language within the CRSP that had prohibited the intrusion upon
In 1981, the environmentalist group Earth First! launched
itself by unfurling a three-hundred foot plastic "crack"
along the front of Glen Canyon Dam. In 1996, the movement to drain
Lake Powell began to gather momentum when the national board of
the Sierra Club, under David Bower's urging, adopted the position
that Lake Powell should be drained. That summer saw congressional
hearings on the proposal, and the Glen Canyon Institute in Flagstaff,
Arizona, began work on a Citizen's Environmental Impact Statement
to pave the legal way for the restoration of Glen Canyon.
In the winter of 1999, Glen Canyon Action Network
was formed to build the citizen's movement to drain Lake Powell.
The reservoir's days became numbered.....