Mr. Brower, I want to begin with the forward you wrote for a book. The book was called The Place No One Knew. At the very start of your forward, you make this statement: "Glen Canyon died in 1963, and I was partly responsible for its death." Why would you say that?
Well, that one's pretty easy. I got into the Colorado River controversy after being concerned a little about Grand Canyon when there was the proposal to build dams in Dinosaur National Monument. And that triggered the whole effort. There were people who thought, "Well, that doesn't make much difference," and there were people who thought that it did.
And what really turned me on was that Harold Bradley, an old friend of mine, took several of his sons down through Echo Park on a boat trip and made a movie. I saw that movie and said, "We've got to see that place." And that was my top priority.
And they were claiming that they needed to build Echo Park Dam because it would evaporate less water. And I began to wonder, "Well, what can we do to save evaporation by not building Echo Park Dam?" And I came up with the brilliant idea that Glen Canyon Dam, which was already being proposed, should be built something like 35 feet higher in order for it to hold all the water Echo Park was going to hold, and to save evaporation.
And that's where my thinking was. Let's get Glen Canyon Dam built and let's forget about Echo Park and Split Mountain and save Dinosaur National Monument.
But as soon as I started talking about making Glen Canyon higher -- and this is where my first fault began -- the Bureau of Reclamation said, "Well, that would make it more difficult to save Rainbow Bridge from the flood of Glen Canyon. And, besides, we have some concern about the foundations at Glen Canyon anyway, so we don't want it any higher."
They didn't want it any higher and the people who knew Glen Canyon -- which I didn't -- had been down there on easy trips where there are practically no rapids said, "What are you talking about, trying to build more Glen Canyon Dam when we want no Glen Canyon Dam at all?" And, of course, then the subsequent thinking, "Well, don't we need to look at the whole project and see what kind of sense it makes?"
And that's where, over the course of years, I did the complete switch and didn't want Glen Canyon built at all. I didn't want the project built until I rethought it.
I want to return to the subject of Echo Park. In many respects, people credit the Echo Park and the concern with the construction of an Echo Park Dam as really being the birth of an environmental conservation movement in the 1950s. Do you accept that?
I can't make any claims here without looking immodest.
Go ahead and be immodest for me.
That's one of the things I had just become as executive director of the Sierra Club and one of the things that I thought I'd -- this enabled me to be -- spend my -- my time on what seemed most important at the time.
We were concerned about the sanctity of the National Park system. We'd already suffered very badly back at the turn of the century when San Francisco destroyed part of Yosemite National Park with the Hetch Hetchy Dam. And we didn't want anything more of that or anything like it. And that was the easy way to get into the battle.
And since the Sierra Club was very much concerned about Hetch Hetchy, and since we had now seen what was going to happen to Dinosaur, there was not just a sagebrush desert but some beautiful canyon country, the situation was a pretty easy one to go into. And the -- the reason they wanted Echo Park Dam, they alleged, was the evaporation figure. That was the Bureau of Reclamation's argument for using the dark, shady, deep canyons of Dinosaur instead of somewhere else.
So the very first thing that happened was that the Bureau got mixed up in its figures and Gen. U.S. Grant III, the grandson of the president, was working with the Corps of Engineers and found the mistakes that the Bureau had been making in evaporation calculation.
And when we got into the whole business of hearings in the House, so help me, the secretary of the interior, assistant one, and the Bureau came into the same crazy figures, and they were even worse. And that's where I got to think just on the evaporation story. And here somebody who had done ninth grade arithmetic, as I pointed out, I'd got as far as algebra -- could look at their figures and say, "Hey, you guys are haywire."
And then I came up with the alternative of a higher Glen Canyon Dam, putting all the water down there, so it's water over water and you save a great deal in evaporation overall. And that's as far as my thinking went: save Dinosaur, save some evaporation, and -- until I learned what was in Glen Canyon.
I was ready to give Glen Canyon because I didn't know what was there. I had no idea about it, nobody had talked about it. But as soon as I suggested, "Let's have a bigger Glen Canyon Dam," then the flak began to fly and I shaped up.
You refer to Glen Canyon as "the place no one knew." Is that literally how we can assume that Glen Canyon was viewed by most people back then? Nobody knew about it?
Well, that's most people. The place, actually, not enough people knew, too few people knew. A few people in Salt Lake knew it, a few Scouts and people that could take their little children down in -- in a rubber raft, so on, they knew about it. But the Sierra Club didn't. Wallace Stegner did and, later on, he told me, "Well, that's certainly between us girls." He said, "Echo Park doesn't begin to compare with what's in Grand Canyon -- in Glen Canyon. That's where the beautiful material is, the beautiful scenery." And he was right.
And by the time my family had taken six or seven trips down, after they started to flood the place, we were ready to carry the battle on and to stop the construction. Or, if there was construction, not to fill it at all.
But by then, was it too late?
And by then, it was too late and the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, who was pretty well involved in going ahead with the dam and closing the gates, and that's what happened in 1963 when the gates were closed while I was sitting in his office trying to say, "Let's not do it yet until we've done some more thinking about the consequences."
Because, at that point, the things that were wrong with Glen Canyon and the whole Colorado River storage project were becoming clear. The argument I brought out very early on was discussed in the San Francisco Chronicle, where I said, "It is that the Bureau of Reclamation was determined to make the Colorado River a place for Paul Bunyan on water skis and have a good time just going from dam to dam." And we were against that.
And then we began to get the arguments first about the evaporation, second about the carrying the whole thing on the Colorado River development too far, showing too much water so that you would have to lose too much by evaporation in order to be saving some. And we -- as the figures began to come in, and as one of my very good friends, Walter Huber, president of the Sierra Club at one point, an expert dam engineer who was the principal adviser to Dwight Eisenhower on dam building, took a look at the structure and drawings for Glen Canyon and said, "It's a bad idea. It's a bad dam."
So we had bad engineering, bad hydrology, the loss of one of the most beautiful canyons that, earlier on, in the Franklin Roosevelt days, had been proposed for the -- the big Escalante National Park. All this was beginning to add up. And they weren't going to put any water on any land for Glen Canyon Dam; it was just a trick of arithmetic to say, "If we store water in the upper basin, then we will have control over it and we can govern what happens in the distribution of the water between the upper basin states and the lower basin states."
And it was sort of the assumption that they needed to help gravity get water downhill. They had a big reservoir already, Lake Mead. With further use of water upstream, Lake Mead would solve all the problems of storing the water. All they needed to do was come to a gentlemen's agreement that water
stored at Lake Mead would be credited to the upper basin.
They haven't learned how to do that yet.
So this is the story that happened. And we were building an extremely strong case against the entire project until it should be rethought. But at that point, people who were not quite as old, or whatever I was, as I was, thought, "Well, really, all we want to save is the national park system. And if we don't build Split Mountain and to Echo Park and go ahead with the other dams, with Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Navajo and so on, that's all we need to do."
But before those people thought that, we had gathered an incredible amount of information about the basic faults of the whole system. And we had enough folks in Congress -- we had 200 votes from the House. And I think that if we had exchanges that we could get from those 200, we had the whole project stopped.
At that point, the Sierra Club's executive committee sent a wire to me in Washington, where I was still lobbying to stop the whole project, that if Dinosaur and Rainbow Bridge were saved, the Sierra Club will drop out of the battle. It just happened that the Sierra Club was the keystone in the structure of the defense of the Colorado River. If the keystone drops out,
you're in trouble. The keystone dropped out; the dam went through.
After that had happened, a couple of things were of interest. One, Sen. Paul Douglas said, "Why did you stop? You had it beat." And Sen. Clinton Anderson, who was very much for the dam but a great reclamationist, said if the project didn't go through in that year, 1956, it would never go through.
What I failed to do at that point was to fly home immediately, call for a separate meeting, special meeting of the Sierra Club board of directors and explain the details to them which had escaped them. Say, among other things, "These are -- it's bad for pollution -- I didn't know much about that yet, it's certainly bad for hydrology, it's bad for the engineering
construction itself, and it's bad for the scenic resources, one of the finest in the world." And our own policy said: "No scenic resource of importance should be sacrificed to power generation." Which is exactly what was happening and which they were permitting.
Somehow, and I don't know yet why -- I just have some suggestions that would come later -- I didn't fly home. I didn't do that. I didn't exploit the chance that we had to block the whole project.
It was that close.
It was that close. And this bothered me for the next 40 years. At which point -- and we've jumped all the way over now to Salt Lake City, to Rich Ingebretsen, the Glen Canyon Institute, who got some figures from the Bureau of Reclamation that I had just given up on, called me back here to Salt Lake, got me in a debate with Floyd Dominy, who had built the dam, got me some of the new figures and the guy who had given up, for reasons he couldn't explain except, as somebody said, "Well, I hadn't seen the place," I didn't know what I was doing, which I didn't. He made me see that we had a chance.
And the biggest number I got was the amount -- the bigger amount of water loss that was going to come because of Glen Canyon, more than a million acre-feet of water a year and a river that couldn't afford to give that much away to the atmosphere and to the desert.
And that figure had escaped us. He got it out of the Bureau of Reclamation's own mouth. And then we went on from there. And that's when everything else began to fall together.
You've had several conversations with Mr. Dominy. You were a supporter of the Glen Canyon Dam when it was most important in the decision-making process, therefore becoming an ally with Mr. Dominy and the Bureau of Reclamation. Your change of heart came too late to be effective.
Well, actually, it wasn't. What changed too late was the Sierra Club's opposition to my opposition to Glen Canyon. That's what it amounted to. And I was bitterly disappointed that that happened, but not smart enough to change the Sierra Club's position. Forty year later, I did. But, meanwhile, Glen Canyon Dam had been built and one of the things that had happened was that the engineering frailty of the dam was adequately destroyed, presented to everybody who could find out about it, in June of 1983, when they damn near lost the dam.
And if you read all the details that the Bureau has had smoked out since then, they were desperately afraid of what was going to happen. And you must have seen some of that. And if you don't, why, we can go into that in some detail. Because it was very scary. I wasn't there at the time. I would love to have been there at the time to watch the struggle. And they then used that in 1983 to say, "All right. That's gone far enough. This is proved. It is inevitable that there's going to be a failure of that dam. The only way to avoid a major catastrophe is to drain it and keep Lake Powell drained. Let the Colorado River run through that dam -- that site once again." And then everything began to fall into place beyond that.
But Wallace Stegner, at the time of the imminence of Glen Canyon Dam, had warned very well in what he wrote about what would happen if we changed the regimen of the river with a dam like Glen Canyon. And he was right. And it took a long time before people quite began to realize the enormous damage being done to the Grand Canyon because of the attempt to dam Glen Canyon, which was not renowned enough, by a long shot. And that's the situation now and then we add to that the tragedy of the Sea of Cortez and what our handling -- the U.S. handling of the Colorado River has done to Mexico, which, from time to time, we say we want to help.
I want to ask you about your recollections of the first time you traveled down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. Can you remember your reactions to the landscape as you saw it firsthand for the first time?
When I saw it firsthand for the first time, I didn't see all of it, but I saw quite a bit. And I will see the rest of it if I last long enough and we get Lake Powell drained and get the canyons back.
The side canyons were the great thing. The river itself was a spectacular sight. But the side canyons are beyond belief. And I had a chance, through several trips, to look into some 14 of those side canyons, including Rainbow Bridge, and got a chance to make a movie back then, Lost and Found Again, and somebody used well in a current film on Glen Canyon.
But it's -- those trips were just extraordinary examples of what kind of beauty had been discovered by Powell and the early people who explored there, who found the kind of beauty that exists in the slick rock country on the Colorado province that nobody had known about. They knew about the usual conventional forest scenery, the glacier scenery, the snow scenery, but they had no idea of the miracle that could happen in the stones, the various sandstones that Glen Canyon was made of.
And when the water went through those, and you got canyons that might be four or five hundred feet deep and just wide enough to squeeze through at the bottom, with just the slightest sky on top, things were to be seen then that people had not seen before. And every time anybody gets in there with a camera now, they go just a little bit crazy over the exquisite beauty that was there and now they're going to get back again, so help us.
You said you went on a number of trips...
...Maybe six or seven trips down there while the dam was under construction and the lake was being filled. No doubt, you saw an evolution, a change of that scenery as the lake level grew higher and higher and higher.
At first, because of the safety requirements near the dam, we had to exit at Crossing of the Fathers. But that took us a long way down. And, at that point, there had been nothing beyond just the very -- barrier dam at the -- at the very beginning of the construction period enabling them to reroute the river so they could build the dam where the river was.
And then, when they began to fill in 1963, that's when the tragedy became greater and greater year by year. But just the view of the Glen Canyon that was and the threat was going to happen not only the -- now that Glen was being lost, and then they were going to go after the Grand Canyon.
And the damage that had already -- was already being done in Glen was of extraordinary help in keeping the Bureau of Reclamation out of the Grand Canyon. The damage they would have done not in the national park itself but in what happened there. And so things began to fall together the other way. And thanks to June of 1983, when Glen Canyon Dam just about collapsed, we've got the tools now to point out what needs to be done to carry out existing law, to carry out the requirements of the Colorado River Compact, which said that the dams -- whatever is done on the Colorado River, development is to be done for water, not for power.
This was pointed out in the hearings by the then-former
governor of Colorado, Ed Johnson. He made it clear that this was a violation, but they just ignored him.
You mentioned a couple of political figures. And one that comes to mind is Sen. Carl Hayden of Arizona. And I have numerous comments from the late senator of Arizona saying that anyone who would seek to stop the Glen Canyon
Dam is seeking to stop the true progress of the nation."
Well, this was true of Franklin Roosevelt. It was true of a period we went through, when they thought that big dams were the way progress should be brought about. And I will not forget a little three-cent postage stamp back in the days when that's all it took to send a first class mail letter, it had a picture labeled "Conservation," not a very big one, and it consisted of a dam. And that's what we were thinking then. So we had various projects. The best thing to do for the river is to plug it. If you don't plug it, the water wastes to the sea.
Well, they didn't ask the river what the river thought. They didn't ask any geomorphologist what rivers are about. They didn't refer this to God or to any of the species that live on rivers or live at the sea dependent upon rivers and what they do. All this happened because people did not know how to think like a river.
We're learning how to do that now. If we'd known how to do that back in about 1930, we would not have the dam problems we have. We'd have found suitable alternatives that technology has brought us since. But we were in such a hurry to get what could be done early, because anybody can build a dam if you find a good dam site.
We got off on the wrong track. It has been a global problem. And I should have plead guilty here, because it just so happens that all the big dams in the world have been built in my lifetime. Why was I so fast asleep?
Again, quoting from one of your earlier writings -- "The Glen Canyon Dam is a monument to man's lack of flexibility." Help me better understand that.
Well, it's a -- I know what it's like to be inflexible. I try to be as inflexible as possible in saving scenic resources. And I see no reason to be flexible about that. And I think that inflexibility has some values that, in certain ways, it builds character. It comes out of boldness. And it has some virtues in inflexibility. Don't let it happen. It's sin, or something like that.
But in Glen, we weren't willing to think of the alternatives. And that is what we were developing, and we were trying to develop that in the course of that battle. "Let's have a white paper on what the alternatives are." That was before the National Environmental Policy Act. And in that, we began to think, "Well, alternatives. What other ways are there to do it?"
And we've come up with a good many other ways, and through that procedure, we avoided a lot of environmental dangers, so many that it upsets the people and they want to get rid of the act.
But it then left out and still leaves out the question: Suppose we simply didn't build it? And we'd never asked that question. I keep asking that. They wanted to build another airport for New York. I said, "Suppose we don't build it? What will the advantages be if we don't?" Pretty much the same thing when Mayor Dailey wanted to build another airport for Chicago.
"What if we don't?" Then I just came up with a one-liner: "We don't need another airport in Chicago; I can lose all the luggage I want to lose at O'Hare as things now stand."
And just a quip was very helpful. And a $17 million project -- $17 billion project didn't go through. Not because of what I was doing but because a lot of people didn't want to see that happen. And then people began to realize, "Look, more and more airplanes sound like a good idea and you get to places faster, but if you get so many airplanes, you can't find enough airports to get them to land and take off or to avoid colliding
with each other in the air, then you're not gaining anything."
So our big argument for Chicago -- and this is the kind of thing-- "Well, what are the alternatives?" No more big airports. No more flights, say, of less than 500 miles. Or the time really begins to make a difference. Get the rails back. Put the Corps of Engineers back to getting railroads on the
track, something or other. This was a very good system. It didn't pollute so much. It got people where they wanted to go not quite so fast, then you could use other quips such as, "We don't need to go that fast." Right now they want the supersonic airport -- airplanes between us and Paris, for example, so that you can get to Paris before your judgment does. So you find a quip or you find a bit of new information and you have a chance
to do it better, do it right.
And the world needs that desperately now. We've goofed off too long without thinking what the permanent costs to the earth are. Advantages so that people who want it now, no matter what it does to the future. And that's what my line of argument is now. And I started thinking in the general idea, "Well, when we get into the budget-making, we always say how much it's going to cost." Let's ask another question. "What's it going to hurt if we don't do it?" And this kind of thinking now is beginning to
catch on. Not because I did it, but because it was inevitable.
The current Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt has said that a proposal to build a dam in Glen Canyon could not win approval today. The times and standards have changed so dramatically since the 1950s. Is that an accurate reading?
Well, he's absolutely correct. It would not be approved. It would not be approved because of what we revealed of the damage being done by driving ahead with a totally wrong project. So that right now, you --
What the project primarily was like was, essentially, in the engineering bureaus, the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, they both knew about building dams. They knew very little about consequences. And when we had our recent floods on the Mississippi, they began to realize they'd had the wrong solution. Putting dikes around rivers seems like a good idea.
But what does it do? It avoids. You're exploiting the absolutely free services provided by wetlands. There was no flooding like there is now before we made it possible to try to prevent it, and made worse floods than had happened.
And now we're getting the numbers, what a wetland is worth, what it's worth to have a river meander instead of build a channel so it will go straight. The Corps of Engineers came up with the idea of building a straight river in the Kissimmee River in Florida, millions of dollars. Now they're spending millions of dollars to put the wiggles back. Because --
What was it about the climate of the 1950s that encouraged this project?
Well, it was the Franklin Roosevelt enthusiasm that -- although I didn't vote for him. I wasn't old enough to when he started. But I was not, myself, ready to do anything except, "Hey, these dams must be a good idea." The various ideas that were coming from the Columbia and so on had seemed fine. But we just hadn't thought it through.
And, for a while, it didn't matter that much because we still had enough rivers that were working all right. We didn't have to do that much thinking. But now we've lost that ability to work without thinking about consequences. We don't have time to do that any more.
We get such figures as I have from Paul Hawkin. It's not about bends, but it's about what's happening with what we call progress. If progress continues the way it's continuing now, in the next 40 years, the world will have to produce as much food as it has produced in the last 8,000 years. And this is because we didn't take the trouble to think about what an
exponential curve can do. When you have normal progress, or sustainable progress, sustainability, you don't have big jumps and surges. Our population was growing slowly -- it turns out it had already grown too fast -- and then it started up the wall.
And in my time, the population of the earth is three times greater than it was when I was born, the population of California is 16 times greater. And we, by and large, think, "Well, this is great." And it is nothing of the sort. We are, at long last, rethinking growth. Growth? We've got to have growth? We have to have economic growth? Who says so? At what cost to the earth? What does it cost if you don't have it? What do you save if you don't?
And now we've got this incredible series of figures that have come out of a recent book that was edited by a woman, Gretchen Dailey, at Stanford, with experts from all over the world in it, a book sold by Island Press. The title of it is Nature's Services. And we have the astounding numbers that they did a lot of thinking of what is the earth worth? And the numbers, every year, we take $33 trillion worth of resources and services from nature without feeling any -- any compunction to pay anything back. That enables us at the present to get, out of our $33 trillion, we get a global GNP, gross national product, of only $20 trillion. But nobody has been thinking about these figures. Hardly anybody has seen that book. It's a devastating
revelation of how we've got to quit our failure to think things out.
In 1963, Floyd Dominy said "Man serves God; nature serves man. By creating a deep blue lake where no lake was before brings Man closer to God."
I would say he has an addiction to dams, and still has. I think it must be shaken a little bit now, but I've got to respect him because he's three years older than I am. However, he's made some big mistakes, and his biggest mistake was Glen Canyon Dam. He wanted to amplify the mistake by building two dams in the Grand Canyon further down the Colorado River.
And I happened to have been lucky enough to find enough people around, enough ideas around, to stop him. And he's never forgiven me for that.
But he -- I remember one of the things he accused me of, according to the John McPhee book about me, Encounters With the Arch Druid, of lying to the public about what the dams in the Grand Canyon would do, that I had said it would flood out the Grand Canyon.
We very carefully, in our arguments and our ads, showed the figures of the Bureau of Reclamation of where the water level would be. It didn't flood out the canyon; it couldn't. But you could destroy the living river within it. And we beat him.
Again, referring back to "the place no one knew," in your forward you wrote -- "The moral of Glen Canyon is that progress need not deny the people's inalienable right to choose. In Glen Canyon, people never knew what the choices were." Help me better understand that.
For one thing, they didn't know because they hadn't been told. They hadn't been told. We hadn't come up with the right answers. I'll just say the student has learned, the teacher hasn't taught. So we hadn't taught the public well enough yet.
Was this very much a public process in what we consider in the 1990s or was it a relatively unknown process?
It was relatively unknown, and the first person to make it known was the late Bernard Devoto in an article in the Saturday Evening Post. And that helped wake me up about what was happening, that we weren't thinking enough about.
But the choice wasn't there, and it's hard to get a choice if you're kept in the dark. Now, and I learned this in World War II in combat, is there are times when you've got to turn the lights on. That's on the occasion where the war was over, we're taking a whole bunch of vehicles, about four miles of vehicles up towards the passage between Italy and Austria just to
observe what the Germans were doing. In the course of that, we ran through the Germans and knew the war was over. And it turned dark as we neared this pass. And, out of habit, we turned on our blackout lights, which you can hardly see, and I got on the radio, I was the intelligence officer, and asked the head of the column, "The war's over, why are we using blackout lights?"
He said, "Okay. You got a good idea. All right, men, turn on the lights." So all the lights went on, which is a nice idea; we could see where we were going. And we found out from the advance units that the pass had Germans there, didn't know the war was over. They had their artillery laid on us and were going to fire when our lights went on. So that saved my life and a lot of other lives by turning on the lights.
And we need to turn on the lights right now in our thinking about what we're doing to the earth. Nobody, no economist that I know of will take seriously the question we must ask, what it costs the earth if we come up with this bright idea. What does it cost the earth? What does it cost the future?
Al Gore has pointed this out in his book, "Just ignore those. They're inconvenient figures."
They're vitally important. If you don't know what it costs the earth, don't mess with it until you find out. And that's what we're finding out now from the Stanford book, how much it costs, how much the free services of nature are worth, whether it's flood control, soil production, or whether it's bees pollinating flowers. And if they stop doing that -- and they do it for nothing -- we'll have nothing to eat. Nor will the animals. If we're vegetarians, the animals won't have anything to eat because they need what the bees are doing.
We don't think about that. We don't realize -- we're beginning to -- pollenization is a wonderful thing. Without it, we would have nothing. If you want to find out, see how long it takes you, without a bee or some other free service, to pollinate a plum tree. You'll have a long, hard job. There are a lot of flowers up there waiting for this little bit of magic. The bees know how to do it and we barely do. We could take a brush and go
around blossom by blossom. I don't think we'd enjoy that very much. And we get it free. That's one -- part of the free service of nature, and it goes on and on. We didn't bother to think it was worthwhile getting a number.
And, as somebody said, if we think we're capitalists, we haven't tried it yet. If we're willing to ignore the source of our major source of capital, the free services of the earth. If we do nothing but impair them, are we capitalists? No. We're just dumb.