by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
President Jimmy Carter’s Office of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance is best remembered for a corruption scandal involving Calhoun National Bank. But he is also the one who popularized the corny phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “That’s the trouble with government,” he wrote, “Fixing things that aren’t broken, and not fixing things that are.”
Another name from the past, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is still trying to tinker with the Colorado River system, which “ain’t broke.” Some people are confused about that, because of the growing alarm about historically low water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
In the midst of another historic debate about the Southwest’s two main reservoirs, Babbitt has decided to weigh in, two decades after leaving office, opining that we must renegotiate the Interstate Compact. The ex-Interior chief, now 84 and mostly retired, apparently thinks Colorado River issues are so complex that his advice is needed. Ego notwithstanding, western water leaders were not anxiously awaiting Babbitt’s wisdom about Lake Powell or Lake Mead.
Those lakes represent more than water storage for both the Upper and Lower Basins, habitat for hundreds of species and popular outdoor recreation. They are also crucial to the western power grid. Lake Powell’s 1,320 megawatt power plant, and Lake Mead’s 2,100 megawatt plant, provide nine billion kilowatt hours annually to utility companies from Nebraska to California. Most importantly, those reservoirs provide the mechanisms to administer the Compact, which allocates the river’s water among 40 million people in seven states.