2008 Collaborative Management of Glen Canyon Dam: The Elevation of Social Engineering Over Law

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The operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River affects several downstream resources and water uses including water supply for consumptive uses in Arizona, California, and Nevada, hydroelectric power

The operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River affects several downstream resources and water uses including water supply for consumptive uses in Arizona, California, and Nevada, hydroelectric power production, endangered species of native fish, recreational angling for non-native fish, and recreational boating in the Grand Canyon. Decisions about the magnitude and timing of water releases through the dam involve trade-offs between these resources and uses. The numerous laws affecting dam operations create a hierarchy of legal priorities that should govern these decisions. At the top of the hierarchy are mandatory requirements for water storage and delivery and for conservation of endangered species. Other resources and water uses have lower legal priorities. The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program ("AMP") has substituted collaborative decision making among stakeholders for the hierarchy of priorities created by law. The AMP has thereby facilitated non-compliance with the Endangered Species Act by the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, and has effectively given hydroelectric power production and non-native fisheries higher priorities than they are legally entitled to. Adaptive management is consistent with the laws governing operation of Glen Canyon Dam, but collaborative decision making is not. Nor is collaborative decision making an essential, or even logical, component of adaptive management. As implemented in the case of Glen Canyon Dam, collaborative decision making has actually stifled adaptive management by making agreement among stakeholders a prerequisite to changes in the operation of the dam. This Article proposes a program for adaptive, but not collaborative, management of Glen Canyon Dam that would better conform to the law and would be more amenable to adaptation and experimentation than would the current, stakeholder-centered program.