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Activists Agree On Controversial Lake Powell Plan

Activists Agree On Controversial Lake Powell Plan

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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John Hollenhorst reporting In a little-noticed meeting this weekend, some Western environmentalists agreed on a controversial action plan.

Lake Powell is now the lowest it's been since the late 60's.

The activists want to stop it from ever being re-filled.

A semi-private meeting Saturday and Sunday at Salt Lake's Alta Club, brought together activists from around the West.

Some are well-connected politically: Former US Commissioner of Reclamation Dan Beard was there. And so was Rick Ridder, former campaign manager for Howard Dean, and once a top campaign aide to Al Gore.

Lake Powell has a powerful political constituency. Millions of boaters have a love affair with it. The region benefits from electricity it generates. Thirsty downstream states rely on it to store water.

Bill West, Arizona Businessman: "Let's face it. If we can't drink, we can't survive."

But some activists who met this weekend have been campaigning to drain it for years.

Now the drought has the job more than half done. As Lake Powell has dropped, it's revealed many scenic, historic and geologic features of Glen Canyon.

Dr. Richard Ingebretsen, Glen Canyon Institute: "People should go down there and ask themselves, is it worth covering that back up again now that it's uncovered?"

The activists agreed on a strategy this weekend: Political, legal and PR tactics to prevent re-filling of the lake. And a parade of field trips to the newly exposed Glen Canyon, often called "The Place No One Knew."

Dr. Richard Ingebretsen, Glen Canyon Institute: "We don't want to create another 'place nobody knew' again. And so we have a huge goal to get people down there so that it will become 'the place people know'."

Bill West, Arizona Businessman: "I've been here for 15 years. Lake Powell is beautiful. It was designed to go up and go down. It was designed to give us drinking water in years when there's drought."

But critics argue the lake wastes water through evaporation and seepage. They propose more efficient storage in downstream states, in aquifers and unfilled reservoirs.

One result of the weekend meeting is that the re-filling issue could wind up in court... because of environmental damage the dam has caused downstream in The Grand Canyon.

Dr. Richard Ingebretsen, Glen Canyon Institute: "The species are endangered down there. And with the freer flowing river and lower Lake Powell, that tends to favor the endangered species. So there are legal avenues down there we are looking at." (reporter: "Meaning lawsuits, potentially?") "Potential lawsuits, uh, huh."

Bill West, Arizona Businessman: "Perhaps the lake shouldn't have been filled with water to start with. But now to drain it would be absolutely ludicrous. Wouldn't make sense."

The drought has become so extended it's triggered a serious discussion among the states over rules for dividing up the water.

The activists say they want their ideas to be on the table as part of that discussion.

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