This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2001, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Drain Lake Powell?
Remove other dams?
Send more water to Mexico for the desiccated Colorado River delta?
Forget about it.
John W. Keys III, the new commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation,
says he plans no major policy shifts for the nation's water-development agency.
During a recent stop in Salt Lake City on a tour of regional Reclamation offices, Keys said he plans to flow with the current policies and goals.
"We have to squeeze every bit of water use out of our projects. We can do it all within the existing laws and rules," said Keys, an Alabama native who has lived in Moab since 1998.
If there is any change, it will be in giving the states more say in how Bureau of Reclamation projects are operated, to fulfill all state water rights obligations.
He did not rule out new dams to accommodate those rights.
Keys, a 37-year career Reclamation employee who once served as Pacific Northwest regional director, said he also hopes to work closely with environmental groups to ensure there is plenty of water for endangered species and other ecosystem concerns.
But he made it clear he is not going to be engaged in any debate about an environmentalist proposal to drain Lake Powell to restore Glen Canyon.
"I've heard their whang and, doggone it, I don't agree with it," said Keys. "It is not worth studying."
On removing other old and unnecessary dams, a movement that is picking up momentum globally, Keys said he will entertain such requests on a case-by-case basis.
"Will we have an active program to evaluate active dams to take them out? No. We're here to make the best possible use of the existing dams."
Keys also said he does not support an environmentalist movement calling for the United States to release 1 percent more of its share of water down the Colorado River to benefit the dying ecosystem of the delta where the river enters the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
"We don't have additional water in the United States' portion of the settlement to put down there," said Keys. If Mexico wants help in conserving water for the delta, Reclamation will provide expertise, he added.
Under international agreements, the United States is allocated 15 million acre feet of water annually from the Colorado River. (An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons.) Mexico gets 1.5 million acre feet.
While Keys vows to work closely with environmental groups, his talk of putting more power in the hands of the states is not promising, said David Orr, field director of Living Rivers, a Moab-based activist group.
Living Rivers is part of a coalition of environmental groups seeking to drain Lake Powell but also to effect "serious changes" in the Bureau of Reclamation.
"The states have called the shots and the feds have rolled over every time. We know the feds have the authority to take a leading role," said Orr. "We would love to have the agency be a partner in reforming itself."
Grayson West/The Salt Lake Tribune