Interview: Floyd Dominy|
Floyd Dominy served as Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 through 1969. Much of the Colorado River Storage Project, including construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, was undertaken during his term of service. He is one of the few civil servants in the nation's history to receive appointment by four consecutive presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon).
Just after you graduate the University of Wyoming and you go to work in government service, I'm struck by the way you put water to work to help the local ranching interests. Can you tell me a little bit about what you did in those early years right out of college, and how that may have shaped your later work with the Bureau.
Well, I started out a in Wyoming. I graduated in 1932 and nobody wanted me. There wasn't any jobs, so I went to school another year. And a then I managed to get a job as a vocational Ag teacher in Hillsdale, Wyoming. I got a hundred dollars a month, and I wasn't very excited about bein' a teacher, I a didn't have the patience to be a good teacher. So I was delighted when the a-Dean of Agriculture and the extension service director at Laramie called me and said that the New Deal programs were um being
launched in the field of agriculture. And that there were two counties in Wyoming that didn't have an a county agricultural agent. And that the department of agriculture was authorizing an emergency agent position, financed entirely by the federal government. And that I could go either to Converse County at Douglas or Gillette. Well I'd already been to Douglas and I knew what that situation was, and I felt well surely Gillette's better
than that. So [chuckle] I said well I'll take Gillette. And of course that was a mistake. Cause Gillette was even a smaller town than Douglas and a more remote, which turned out to be an advantage because I was a long way from the University and I didn't get much supervision. And there weren't any trout streams to attract anybody anyway.
Anyway, this is a big county, a hundred and twenty miles long, sixty miles wide, and it was in desperate circumstances, the a drought and depression crisis for agriculture had a put the people in a in dire straights. They'd homesteaded a lot of land that a six hundred and forty acres, with a twelve inch rainfall that a the man couldn't just make it, it was a they were a very impoverished and now they had cattle prices were down to zero and so forth. So I was very interested, when the a government announced a range improvement program. And I thought well here's my chance to put a lot of these farmers in to work building dams with their teams and
scrapers. And it'll help the ranchers because they will disperse their water supplies around on their ranch. And I jumped on it with both feet and we had a very successful program. It wasn't announced till September, in a political year, 1936. And it was the only country in the western states that really accomplished anything. The other people thought it was too late in the fall to start building dams. But I knew if we started moving the dirt that we could keep it moving even if it got cold. And that program of
course resulted eventually in my being offered a job in Washington, and that's how ultimately I ended up with the Bureau of Reclamation.
It must have been a powerful lesson on what wise water management could mean to the farmer, to agriculture.
Well of course there were no irrigation structures--we had no live water in Camel County. All the streams were ephemeral and ran only when the snow melted or rain came. But there were stock water ponds -- very valuable for that purpose.
But it did obviously drive some-- that essential message of water in the west being such a precious commodity.
Yes, it the it drove home to me that water was very essential to a any development in the west. I'll never forget of course my first visit to Hoover Dam. January 2, 1937, I'd taken a vacation and as a county agent you could only get away in the wintertime and I'd gone to a California to watch the Rose Bowl parade, and then we drove, started back to Wyoming and stopped at Grand Canyon and on up in Hoover Dam. The dam had just been completed. The lake had finally filled to the point where the power house was in operation and I was highly impressed a that anybody could build such a magnificent structure and make it work and a never dreamed of course that a I'd some day a be in charge of operating that dam as part of my function in Reclamation.
Let's consider the Colorado River. We have now two full generations of Americans that only know the Colorado River as its controlled by dams that help control the flow, produce hydroelectric power, put the water to service. What was the river like before the storage projects, before the damming projects went into place.
The Colorado River drains one-twelfth of the forty eight continental United States. It's a big river, in terms of its drainage, it's not a big river, in terms of its total volume of water. And yet it a was a very destructive river at times, in the early nineteen hundreds, it escaped its banks down near Yuma and started flowing into the below sea level area that now is known as the Salton Sea, and it took several years of a herculean task by the Southern Pacific Railroad and others to get it back in its
banks. Meanwhile the California desert was being irrigated, but
with a very uncertain water supply because the Colorado River without impoundments couldn't be relied upon in the summer months. The annual flow of the Colorado River is so erratic that some years it flows as little as six million acre feet of water in a year, and some years as much as thirty million acre feet of water. So it was either in flood or in trickle. But in any year, eighty percent of the annual flow would come down at about two months. So it wasn't very reliable in terms of planning a long-term irrigation projects in water supply for cities.
California was the first to start agitating for a structure on the
river somewhere to stop the floods and regulate the flow. And of course there were a number of dam sites that had already been identified by the Bureau of Reclamation and the geological survey engineers. Among them were the sites in the Black Canyon and Boulder Canyon near Las Vegas. Then Bridge Canyon dam farther up the river below the national park. And then Marble Canyon Dam and Glen Canyon Dam up above the national park. All of these were identified as potential reservoir sites because of the sheer canyon walls but none of them had been challenged in terms of determining
the strength of the rock or the porousness of the rock. But they knew it was a possible site for a major dam that would control the floods.
Well California of course had the muscle. They had President Hoover a little later who a graduate of Stanford. Coolidge was of course president at the time. And they were able, with the help of Secretary of Interior from California, to make the first dam authorization at the Boulder Canyon site near Las Vegas. Actually the dam got built in Black Canyon-- but still was known as Boulder Dam. It was authorized as I said-- signed by Coolidge in 1928. And it was a great undertaking. Nobody'd ever built a dam of this
magnitude. The Bureau had built several dams around the country before that of course. But none of them on a major river. That would challenge seven hundred feet from bedrock or more. So it attracted a great deal of interest. There wasn't any contractor that was big enough to undertake the job by himself. So they called them the Big Six. There was actually seven separate contractors from around the west that got together and decided to
bid on the on the dam and they were successful. And it got built.
Here's a lake ninety miles long, capable of storing twenty seven
million acre feet of water. It completely controlled the floods except in a very exceptional year and gave California and Arizona the chance to put the water to work. The Imperial Irrigation District for example, before had been limited to what could be irrigated by the erratic flows, and part of the package included the All-American canal. The original canal from the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley started out in the United States and then went down into Mexico and wandered back into the United States. And of course this gave them quite a few problems about poaching of water, in the Mexican area. So part of the package for the Boulder Canyon program was an all-American canal that would stay in the United States. By that time we had a the capacity to make deep cuts and to line the canal through the sand and a make it feasible.
If Hoover Dam accomplished so much, what then was the need for the upper basin states to consider a Colorado River storage project.
The reason that ultimately Glen Canyon was required goes back to the history of the law of the river in the west. It was really Colorado that started the law of appropriation of water-- that the person who put the water to work first had a perpetual right to use it. And even though somebody up higher on the stream wanted to use it, he had to let enough water come down to satisfy the original users demands. Well here's California and Arizona on the lower Colorado. We're putting the water to work. And if they got all their projects and their municipal industrial
water system built, the flow of the Colorado River would have been
committed under western water law to their use. So the upper basin states, it was very anxious to get a compact and an agreement with California and Arizona and Nevada, the lower basin states that would protect their rights ultimately to put some of the Colorado River water to work. And Hoover was named as the arbitrator in these discussions. They went on for several years, and finally the compact was agreed to in 1922, it was ratified by the other states in 1924. Now this divided the river up between the lower basin
states of Arizona, California and Nevada. And the upper basin states of New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. And they decided to split the flow of the river. They didn't have accurate measurements but what measurements they had indicated that they could probably rely on fifteen million acre feet of water a year over the average. So they split the flow half and half, seven and a half million acre feet to the lower basin and seven and a half million to the upper basin. Later on, the upper basin agreed to
have their own compact among the four upper basin states. Allocating fifty one point seventy five percent of the water to Colorado because that's the yield of the river that comes from Colorado. Twenty three percent Utah, fourteen percent to Wyoming and 11.25 to New Mexico.
Now of course it's interesting that California ended up with the bulk of the water because they split the lower basin allotment four to California and two eight to a Arizona. And three hundred thousand to Nevada. And California ends up with the bulk of the water and they contribute nothing to the Colorado River. None of the flow of the Colorado River comes from California. But they had the strength of numbers and the and the strength of prior use under the western theory of water law. So don't be mislead by those folks who now are claiming we don't need Glen Canyon Dam and that
it can be drained . Without Glen Canyon Dam, the big sponge of Lake Powell to absorb the flood years, there's no way that the upper basin states could put their seven and a half million acre feet of water to use. They say now of course that Glen Canyon isn't needed, you don't divert any water out of Lake Powell, well, you do divert water out of Lake Powell by transfer. When you divert water through the mountains in the Utah and Colorado into other uses, it's really out of Lake Powell because it's the big storage that's possible there-- makes possible the upper basin a development.
I'm very proud of Glen Canyon Dam. And the fact that it's a world wide recognized recreational spot. I was the one who predicted way back in 1959 that up to three million people would be visiting that lake in a few years. And that figure was reached before 1990. And I was there a year ago January, which is not really the tourist month for Northern Arizona, and yet I found visitors from Canada, from Japan, from Korea, even from the Channel Island off the coast of France, visiting Glen Canyon and Lake Powell.
Before we get into the development of Glen Canyon, let's talk a little bit about Echo Park because that was originally intended to be one of the focal points for water storage on the Colorado River. And Echo Park became a very controversial battle. Why?
It's interesting to note that some people think that Echo Park was a substitute for Glen Canyon, and that's not the case at all. Echo Park was on the Green River. It was not in a position to store the big massive Colorado River flow, it had to be a dam below the San Juan and Escalante and all the other rivers. But Echo Park would have been a real money maker as a hydro project and that was its function to provide additional funds for the total Colorado storage project which was to include a lot of participating projects in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. And New Mexico. Now it got in trouble, I think, largely because they called it Echo Park. If we'd called it Rattle Snake Butte or Skunk Hollow, we probably could have got it built. And of course it was in the expanded Dinosaur National Monument. And the
adversaries made a big issue of this. And they disregarded the fact that in Teton National Park, Jackson Lake Dam and lake is a reclamation project that they're very proud to have in the Teton National Park. The Smokey Mountains in the Carolinas has a big hydroelectric project on its border. We weren't going to destroy in any way the dinosaur diggings which was the purpose of the Dinosaur National Monument to start with, and then it was expanded to include a vast area including the Echo Park Dam site. The Echo
Park Dam would have been a highly desirable hydroelectric plant because you could put another dam directly below, so that you could use Echo Park as a peaking power without disrupting the flow of the river. But it was not necessary. Glen Canyon was essential. Echo Park was not essential to the success of the Colorado storage project.
What do you say in response to those organizations like the Sierra Club from the time, the Isaac Walton League from the time who said that the Bureau was absolutely indifferent to the national monument, indifferent to the environment, Echo Park was a great example of that, and that they had to fight for these precious natural resources.
Of course there's a lot of folks who think any dam disrupts the natural situation and therefore shouldn't be built. These dams are important for the benefit of people. These remote canyons are visited by very few in their natural state. Certainly they're beautiful, but only a few can appreciate that. And the water is not put to beneficial use. But with a major storage reservoir you get this pollution free energy, you get the
regulation of the river and you get a marvelous recreational site for thousands of people, even millions of people. Glen Canyon-- area hundred and eighty six river miles on the Colorado, seventy- six river miles on the on the a San Juan, and the lower Escalate-- in their natural state without the lake, it would have very few people. There's only been about two hundred folks visiting that area in recorded history. Rainbow Bridge for example, named a national park in nineteen nine, had less than fifteen thousand
signatures in the book when I visited it in 1959. And that's of course a story in itself because the Grand Canyon authorizing act, the Colorado Storage Project Act, had a stipulation that we had to keep the waters of Lake Powell from backing up into Rainbow Bridge National Monument. And this is rather interesting because it was the blind leading the blind. None of the folks who advocated that had ever been there. The director of the parks service had never been there. Tony Smith, the lobbyist for the parks service had never been there. Dave Brower had never been there. None of the people in Congress had been there, and they wrote this stipulation
in thinking it was according to something that should be done. You
couldn't violate the principle of the national monument. You had to keep the man made waters from invading this pristine area.
Well, we were well along in starting construction at Glen Canyon Dam. We hadn't poured the first bucket of concrete yet, but we were diggin' out the hole and we diverted the river, and so when I was made commissioner effective May 1, 1959, I realized this was now my responsibility. And I called Lem Wiley, the construction engineer and I said, Lem you and I got to go in there and decide what we're gonna do to live with this law. We went in by horseback and spent several days and it became perfectly obvious to us that this was something that should not be done. It would require a barrier dam at the mouth of Bridge Canyon, a tributary. It would require a diversion dam up above the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a couple of miles of tunnel leading from the Bridge Canyon over into Forbidding Canyon to bypass the Bridge Canyon area, a diesel pumping plant to pump the surplus waters that would gather behind that barrier dam. All of this in a country that had no roads, had no electricity, no access whatever. And to do that would require a violation of the scenic surroundings far greater
than to allow a little water to trickle under Rainbow Bridge. Now the Bridge itself was not gonna' be a harmed in any way. The arches were eighty-five feet above the bottom of a dry arroyo that wandered underneath the arch. And when Lake Powell filled to thirty seven hundred foot elevation, we'd have only three or four feet of water under the arch. And this water was not gonna harm the arch in any way. All the geologists were agreed on that, both Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation and the geological survey. It actually would protect the arch because the erosion was already eating into where the arch on the on the east side was already vertical, with the arroyo. And a dead water pool would stop any further eroding of that bank. I'm not saying that the arch was doomed to fall any time soon. But certainly in geologic time it might.
Well, at any rate, we agreed, Lem and I that we had to do everything we could to get that law changed. Incidentally, after four days on that horse I was so saddle sore that I walked out and carried the horse. But, I took a lot of slides and I had my Denver office build a topographic model from the aerial mapping. And I went to Congress to try and get it amended. Well, Chairman Les Aspinall was not sympathetic to opening the bill up for amendment. He was absolutely opposed to it. He thought that you opened up for amendment, we might lose some other things out of storage project act that he didn't want to lose. So he just said, "Commissioner, you're gonna have to live with the law the way it is and go ahead and build those barrier dams."
Well, I'm a pretty independent man, I was so sure that I was right,
that this was a wrong thing to do, that when we when we asked for the money, according to the law that we had to ask for to build these structures, I advised the appropriation committee that they would be foolish to give it to me. I said I if you'll refuse to give me the money, then we can't build the structures and we'll let the water back into that monument.
And of course you're not suppose to amend the law in appropriations acts. But I felt it was justified and all the rest of the years as we built Glen Canyon Dam and power plant and transmission lines, the appropriate language said none of the monies appropriated here in under the Glen Canyon proposal shall be used to construct any facility designed solely to prevent the waters from Lake Powell from entering Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Well of course the Sierra Club and others didn't like that and they took it to court, and the first court, they ruled in their favor and said we couldn't put the water there, we'd have to hold the reservoir at 3600 foot
elevation and if that had prevailed, of course the whole plan for Glen Canyon Dam would have been a failure because a at 3600 foot elevation, we can only store about fourteen million acre feet of water. And at thirty seven hundred foot elevation you store twenty seven million acre feet of water.
Anyway, we now have water under the bridge and it's not hurting the
arch in any way. And it does give a water highway for people to visit Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the role of western congressional and senate figures supporting water projects and water development. How did western congressmen and senators view federal water project development, were they generally supportive?
Reclamation Project Act was sponsored first by a Senator from Nevada. Actually the environmentalists objected to my naming the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam Lake Powell a because they thought Powell was a great environmentalist. But Powell probably had more to do with the enactment of the federal reclamation project act than any one individual. He'd been making speeches and writing about the development of the west being
dependent strictly on the management of water, that you couldn't have a large population in a semi-arid and arid area, unless you had a water supply that was dependable and the erratic western streams were not dependable without storage. But the support for reclamation has been broad based really. Absolutely a hundred percent from the western senators and the congressman and for years the appropriation committee that handled reclamation was almost entirely composed of western members. Both senate and house.
But we had good support from the basic area, whole area of the United States. We were only seventeen western states. So we didn't have a majority in the senate or the house. We had to rely on help from the other the other states. And I can remember that a congressman from Ohio, Kerwin, was very supportive of reclamation. When Time Magazine ran a big story about the pork barrel of the reclamation program, it was Kerwin of Ohio who was the first congressman to call me and ask me to write him a rebuttal. That he would send in over his own name. I found that very interesting. But we had good support. Had to have it. But from the west, it was unanimous. It didn't make any difference whether there was a republican or democrat in the White House or in charge of the congress--we got good support for reclamation.
The naming of the dam and the storage area behind it were really the work of Floyd Dominy, you named them both didn't you?
I didn't name Glen Canyon Dam, that had been the name for that site for years.
Well, they'd been calling it the Glen Canyon Dam site for years, but wasn't there some pressure to name it after a political figure?
Well there were certain interests like that, but I thought the name had been there since 1916 actually. It had been identified under that name and that was the proper name for it. Lake Powell of course was a very simple one to me. Powell was really the guy who ran the Colorado first, wrote about it and who was a reclamation supporter from the very beginning. And I thought it was justified that to give him that honor. And I think it's the right name.
As I look at your career, commissioner, your moves in terms of working with the political and often partisan arms of our government, the Congress, senate and house, the White House, you demonstrate a facility at advancing the agenda of the Bureau of Reclamation and water development in the west. What was the required talent?
I learned early in my career in dealing with the members of congress to be informed. Never go before a committee of congress unless you're fully informed as to what it is you're trying to get. And treat them with a great deal of respect no matter how stupid the question may be, treat it as if it's the most adroit question that could have been asked. And don't hesitate to change your game plan. I recall one time, I was on the carpet
because I had gone ahead with a rehabilitation and betterment project going direct to the appropriations committee when the congress wasn't in session. And discovered that the house interior committee felt highly insulted that I hadn't corresponded with them about it in advance. Well I was perfectly legal, nothing I had done that was illegal, so I was prepared to challenge him, and point out to them that I hadn't done anything improper. But when
I showed up they, I could tell by the looks on their faces that I was gonna' lose that argument as far as they were concerned, so I fell on my sword and said, gentlemen I apologize, I made a hell of a mistake. I should not have gone to the Appropriations Committee without first clearing with you. So you gotta change your signals if you can, if you see that you're gonna lose.
Speaking of changing signals, I look at the political climate of a late nineteen forties, nineteen fifties ... help us under stand how that era was an era of opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The thirties, forties and fifties were the hey day for the Bureau of Reclamation, particularly the fifties. Because now the war was over, we didn't do anything of course for four years during world war II. And now we had the opportunity to staff up and go back to work. And we had no nay sayers in those days. Everybody thought that managing water was a desirable thing and it was in the public interest. And we didn't have lint pickers behind every bush, when we proposed a project that made sense
economically and physically. For example, Glen Canyon Dam was authorized in April of 1956, Colorado storage project act. And we actually started construction within six months. Why today, we'd have spent six months trying to find out where to put the toilets for the rock scalers. They've got so many lint picking organizations lookin' over the shoulder now that there's no way you can get a project approved. The Animas-LaPlata project in southern Colorado was authorized originally as a huge project in 1968. But we didn't get it underway and it's been modified and modified and
modified and scaled down and scaled down and it's still not under
construction. And I read the other day where the Environmental Protection Agency had been given seven extensions to give their story, the result of their studies, and this was over three years. Now that's ridiculous. Under today's environment, there's no way that you can a build another project anywhere.
Prior to construction, was there any opposition to the Glen Canyon site as the setting for a major water storage facility?
Well of course Dave Brower now says that was the biggest mistake he ever made, that he says he traded Echo Park for Glen Canyon, or Glen Canyon for Echo Park which ever way you want to put it. I don't think it was quite that simple, now of course Dave admits that he didn't know anything about Glen Canyon and he now says that if he of known how beautiful that area was, and had seen Cathedral of the Desert and Music Temple and at Gregory's Arch
and all those things that we covered up, that he would have fought it tooth and nail. And he probably would have. But it's also interesting to note that the Sierra Club had agreed that the bridge canyon dam should be built or could be built without their opposition at all. They agreed to it. They're on record in writing. They also had agreed before the Dinosaur National Monument was expanded that they had no objection to a dam in that
area of the river. So they're not very pure on the history of their support and not support for these projects.
But, at the time, was there opposition to Glen Canyon?
It had a no opposition at the time and of course Brower admits that was because it was a land nobody knew. And there were very few people who knew it, very few. And the storage area was uninhabited. We didn't have to relocate any railroads. We didn't have to relocate any highways, we didn't have to build barrier a dikes around any little little towns. There was nothing there. Nothing there. We flooded out the rattle snakes and the
prairie dogs and a few deer, and a beaver or two. That's all that was flooded out when we, and a lot of beauty. But we created a lot more beauty. And made it available. Which it wasn't before.
What do you think of people characterizing Floyd DOMINY as an enemy of the environment?
I have told Dave Brower that I'm a bigger environmentalist than he is. I've changed the environment, yes. But I've changed it for the benefit of man. We haven't destroyed the world, we we've made it habitable for a lot more people. A young man not long ago said to me, he said, are you a hero or a villain, based on your record as Commissioner of Reclamation. Well
I said I think I'm a hero or should be considered it by you because you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the development of the west sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation.
As you look at Glen Canyon now, you look at the dam site, you look at Lake Powell. What type of personal feelings do you have?
Well I'm personally very proud of all the structures in the west that bears my imprint. All that hydro. I wish we, I I'm very jealous of Norway, they get all of their energy from hydro. But they've in doing that, they've made some compromises. In the winter months, when there's nobody up there, no tourists and its dark and they need a lot of energy, they actually cut off the water falls and put it all through the hydro dams. And then turn
the waterfall back on the next spring for the tourists, when they don't need quite so much energy. Now can you imagine us building a hydro station that below Yellowstone Falls. in Yellowstone National Park. But that's what the Norwegians have done in order to get all of their energy from a non-polluting source. Switzerland has dams nine hundred feet high with a very small amount of water, but they drop it three or four thousand feet to
generate a powerful amount of electricity. We could learn a lot from the Scandinavian countries about hydroelectric power. They put their hydro plants under, the mountain and that sort of thing.
Wasn't it just after you took over as commissioner that the work force on Glen Canyon started the process of strike and shutting down the labor activities?
Yes, I was made commissioner in May first 1959 and on July 1, 1959, the- strike hit the Glen Canyon work force and the place was shut down completely for six months. It was a horrendous time. The people that suffered the most of course were the new merchants that had moved into Page and just getting established on borrowed money and all of a sudden the work force has evaporated, the people that they were relying on for their customers are gone, and Page became a ghost town. Mayor Chapman Scott, the contractor
had a clause in their contract that obligated the government to pick up eighty five percent of any increased labor cost during the construction period. Now the strike was over subsistence which wasn't part of the labor contract, it was a separate contract where the company agreed with the labor unions to provide a six dollar a day subsistence up until the time they had a town at Page with a hospital and--- grocery stores and so forth, and then the subsistence would stop. And a Merritt, Chapman, Scott got an opinion from the arbitrator that he could now stop subsistence because we had a thriving city at Page. And the strike was over that. It wasn't over the a price per hour for the labor unions.
And Merritt Chapman Scott was concerned that they weren't going to make any money on the building of this dam.
Yeah, they had left ten million dollars on the table. So they knew they were operating on a very close margin if they were gonna come out with the hide. Well of course I appeal the decision to this, to the comptroller general and later was upheld and the company did not get the eighty five percent rebate from the government on that increased labor cost.
I don't know what finally resolved the strike, they Merritt Chapman Scott agreed to increase the hourly rate by a few cents a for all the trade unions on the job and that's what finally solved it.
What did the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam mean to the people of the southwest?
Two occasions, at Glen Canyon. The one, was when we had Lady Bird Johnson fly in. The presidential jet couldn't land at Page. She had to come up from Phoenix in a smaller plane. And of course everybody was there, the school children from all around the country, and the Navajo band and the president, the head of the Navajo tribe and all the dignitaries, senators and congressmen and hosts of other people. And the lake was filled sufficiently so that it was there gleaming in the sunshine and a it was it was a tremendous experience. I think I enjoyed more than the dedication
of the lake. When that was dedicated, in nineteen sixty a nine. A few months before I retired, and I had Dave Brower there as my guest because we were going to a float the lake for a week and then float the river for a week, with John McPhee who was gonna write a book about it. And the chairman of the Navajo tribe says this is a great lake despite the Sierra Club and those that oppose it and the, the governor of Utah said this is a great lake and I'm proud of it despite the Sierra Club and those who oppose it and the governor of Arizona says I'm proud of this lake in spite of the Sierra Club and those who oppose it and when I got up to make a little speech, I said, well some of you are gonna be surprised, and Dave Brower stand up and Dave stood up and I told him that Dave and I were gonna spend some time on the lake and I was gonna try to convert him into becoming a believer. And then we were going to float the Colorado River where he was gonna try to convince me that I was dead wrong and we shouldn't have any
more dams on the Colorado River. I enjoyed that very much.
Help me understand the controversy that surrounded the proposed construction of two dams near Grand Canyon National Park. You were characterized as the man who wanted to dam the Grand Canyon.
Yes, the fight against Marble and Bridge Canyon Dams in the late sixties became very a very vicious, very vicious indeed. And I blame Dave Brower because he deliberately mislead the public with his Sistine chapel ads. He had people believing that we were gonna flood the Grand Canyon National Park from rim to rim. Now actually I made two trips, three trips down the river,
one by raft and two by helicopter, in which I documented in colored slides every foot of the river two hundred and sixty five miles from the toe of Glen Canyon dam to Lake Mead and I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were not going to impinge in any way with the Grand Canyon National Park. And that we were not gonna violate the area that the Sierra Club itself had agreed could be dammed. Now later after my third trip down through there, I came to the conclusion that Marble Canyon should not be built, the upper one. A, that it was gonna disrupt the a float trips to such an extent that a you couldn't a you couldn't tolerate it. It was
a magnificent canyon. It ought to have been part of the National Park and my proposal was that a we build Bridge Canyon dam but we expand the national park up through the a Marble Canyon area and including the a Lees Ferry.
Instead of Bridge Canyon dam which would create pollution-free energy, we got a two and a half million kilowatt installation with the coal fire plant that burns a train load of coal a day, and that has smogged up the Grand Canyon National Park with smog. That was the trade-off that Brower got. But it wasn't Brower that stopped those dams, it was the atomic energy people.
Well in the in the sixties, Glen Seaborg and Admiral Rickover were telling the congress that atomic energy was gonna be so cheap because they were gonna have the breeder reactor that you wouldn't even need to meter it. That you could desalt sea water so cheaply you could use it for irrigation. And the congress was saying to Commissioner Dominy, Floyd we don't need any more dams, we got this wonderful atomic energy. Well you know the history of that, it was all phoney. And it hasn't developed at all.
I'm intrigued by how California played politics with trying to hold up the upper Colorado River storage project.
Now, California in spite of the fact that they had a participated in the Compact, which limited their use of the water of the Colorado River and guaranteed the use of the Colorado River to the upper basin states-- never really acquiesced. They fought Arizona through the supreme court denying that Arizona even were entitled to two-point-eight million out of the lower basin commitment. And lost finally. And they were not about to admit that Glen Canyon Dam ought to be built. A Congressman Hosmer was the man who brought in a glass of water and dropped some Chinle shale into it and the shale dissolved and he said, now they're tryin' to build a dam with this stuff you know. And Stewart Udall countered a little later by bringing a piece of Navajo sandstone, not the Chinle shale a where the dam was actually gonna built, would be built with in the reservoir was in Navajo sandstone. And Stewart dropped this chunk of Navajo sandstone in the glass of water and shook it up good and drank it off and said this is pretty good stuff. It was really a show between Arizona and the upper basin and California. But California was hard to whip. They hung in there pretty hard to try to prevent the upper basin states from getting Glen Canyon Dam built. And I expect now they're falling behind (Richard) Ingebretsen (of the Glen Canyon Institute) and the Sierra Club and others that want to bring down Lake Powell.
Let me ask you a little bit about the politics of reaping benefits. As a commissioner I imagine this must be one of the things that you're constantly were pressured over. Am i correct in assuming congressional figures frequently tried to maximize their state's economic benefit from the development of water projects.
Yes, it's very interesting that Utah of course wanted the town of Page, for example, to be located on the west bank, and the Arizona of course preferred it on the east bank. The terrain certainly favored Arizona because there wasn't anything on the west bank suitable for a town site. The Navajo people were very generous with us because they were very happy to give us this sagebrush and and salt sage area if they could trade it off for lands that they thought were quite better over in North of Mexican
Hat. And they didn't want any money for their land, they said they want exchange, acre for acre. And that's what happened. We made an exchange with them and a and we got the town where it should be.
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