Rainbow Bridge
Administrative History
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Issues and Conflicts II: Rainbow Bridge National Monument and the Colorado River Storage Project, 1948-1974 (continued)

The desire to protect Rainbow Bridge also became a matter of law during the battle over the CRSP. Environmentalists had successfully manipulated public opinion against Echo Park dam. The thousands of letters people sent to Congress were reportedly running eighty to one opposing the dam. [266] Even Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay withdrew his support for Echo Park dam in late 1955. [267] To solidify their imminent victory at Echo Park, the Council of Conservationists and Brower agreed to back off of the proposed dam at Glen Canyon. Glen Canyon was not protected with any federal designation and the threat to Rainbow Bridge was distant at best. Brower grudgingly was convinced that the Bureau of Reclamation would keep its promises to protect Rainbow Bridge, but not without certain provisos. [268] In October 1955, Brower and the Council of Conservationists agreed to cease opposition to the CRSP on two conditions. First, Reclamation had to remove all language regarding Echo Park and Dinosaur NM from the CRSP. In addition, the CRSP had to include language designed to protect Rainbow Bridge and to protect any other national parks or monuments from Reclamation projects. The Bureau of Reclamation accepted the offer. Congress fast-tracked the legislation and a bill that included all the necessary protective language was approved on March 28, 1956. Two weeks later, on April 11, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the CRSP into law. Construction on Glen Canyon Dam began October 15, 1956. [269]

Glen Canyon
Figure 26 Glen Canyon, 1909 (Julius F. Stone Collection, NAU.PH.97.34.152, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University)

The legislation that authorized Glen Canyon Dam was specific regarding both Rainbow Bridge and the national park system at large. The last line of Section 1 of the CRSP assured "as part of the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Glen Canyon unit the Secretary of the Interior shall take adequate protective measures to preclude impairment of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument." [270] Section 3 stated "it is the intention of Congress that no dam or reservoir constructed under the authorization of this Act shall be within any national park or monument." [271] In theory, these stipulations were as clear as they could be. The provisos were specifically included to assuage the fears of environmentalists and to guarantee that a battle like the one fought over Echo Park would never be fought again. In practice, however, this was not what happened.

Controversy over Rainbow Bridge and the effect of Glen Canyon Dam on the monument erupted even before the CRSP legislation was authorized. The National Parks Association took the stand that the Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation had not considered all the threats to Rainbow Bridge. Protective structures, such as a barrier dam, built north of the bridge in Bridge Creek, would only keep water from coming up the canyon to the bridge. What about the water coming down the canyon that would back up behind the barrier dam? In response to such criticisms, Reclamation and NPS planners explored provisions for pumping apparatus to be installed at the barrier dam. [272] Critics also charged that other impacts were not addressed at any of the Congressional hearings, such as the effects of building protective measures on the surrounding landscape. There were no roads to any of the possible barrier dam sites, and every site required a dam at least 150 feet high and 100 feet in span. While these were only small projects in comparison to Glen Canyon Dam, the relative effect of a "small" dam on the fragile sandstone ecosystem of Bridge Creek could be enormous. In July 1955, NPS Director Conrad Wirth received a letter from Acting Regional Director Hugh Miller detailing the possible effects of building various protective measures at Rainbow Bridge. In the margins of the letter, Wirth made a handwritten notation of his feelings about the proposal: "What an unholy mess they are going to make of a once wonderful national monument." [273] The problem of protecting Rainbow Bridge was expanding even as President Eisenhower signed the CRSP into law.

Over the next three years the Park Service worked closely with Reclamation and U.S.G.S. personnel on substantive plans and cost estimates for the protective works which Reclamation was required to construct. While high-ranking members of NPS were politically hamstrung in any effort to stop construction of the dam, they did actively pursue planning for protective measures. The documentary evidence between 1956 and 1959 indicates that during this period Park Service personnel at every level were in nearly constant contact with counterparts at the Bureau of Reclamation. Together they explored numerous plans, alternatives, and technologies that would allow Rainbow Bridge to remain untouched by Lake Powell. All this effort was in preparation of some kind of finalized report on how the agencies involved could best protect the bridge.

Glen Canyon
Figure 27 Proposed Sites For Protective Measures (Courtesy of Glen Canyon NRA, Interpretation Files. Photo by A.E. Turner)

In August 1959, the Bureau of Reclamation finished its report on the alternatives for protective works at Rainbow Bridge. Four separate sites were examined for a barrier dam on the southern side of the monument. A year of research and cost analysis produced a nearly predictable conclusion: all four of the prospective sites were imperfect at best. In the 1955 hearings before Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation's E.O. Larsen estimated that a barrier dam and diversion tunnel might cost between $2,000,000 and $4,000,000. The 1959 report estimated the least expensive of the four sites at $15,000,000. Anxieties over access to the protective works were also an issue in the report. The report concluded that fifty to eighty miles of roads would have to be constructed. The only consensus in the report concerned the minimum number and type of works necessary to protect the bridge: a barrier dam with pumping facilities at the north end of Bridge Creek; a diversion dam at the south end of Bridge Creek; and a diversion tunnel twenty-one feet in diameter and 4,800 feet long. [274] There was no easy method of complying with Sections 1 and 3 of the CRSP.

Forces on both sides of the debate rallied after the report was published. By the end of 1959, attitudes were changing regarding protecting Rainbow Bridge. Given the realities of difficult access and high expense, the prospect of preventing Lake Powell from entering the monument was no longer very appealing. Even federal officials followed this new line in their intention not to protect Rainbow Bridge. In an October 1959 newspaper article, Floyd Dominy, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, stated that Rainbow Bridge would be more aesthetically appealing with water under it. In the same article, Colorado Senator Wayne Aspinall questioned whether or not the cost of saving Rainbow Bridge was in the nation's interest. Texas Representative Walter Rodgers said flatly, "the money could be much better spent for other things." [275] On March 9, 1960, Representative John P. Saylor, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, telephoned David Brower with some disturbing news. The Committee had reached a consensus that protective measures were unnecessary for Rainbow Bridge. Despite the concerns of Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton regarding the CRSP's legal imperative to protect the bridge, the Committee felt protecting Rainbow Bridge "was unnecessary." [276]

The Senate was also less than sympathetic to the deal struck between Reclamation and environmentalists. In May 1960, Senator Frank E. Moss (D-UT) introduced a bill to amend the CRSP and remove its protective language. The bill, S. 3180, would have changed the Section 1 phrase "any impairment" to "any structural impairment;" additionally, it would have amended the Section 3 phrase "any dam or reservoir" to "any dam." [277] The bill's intent was to release the Secretary of the Interior from the legislative obligation to protect the bridge. Moss testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee in May 1960 that no threat to Rainbow Bridge existed. He argued that simple math dictated the waters behind Glen Canyon Dam would never reach the bridge and even if they did, nothing would happen. [278] Environmentalists were sure that if the bill made it into law, they would have to fight the Echo Park battle all over again. Without the protective language regarding Rainbow Bridge, any national monument or park was subject to resource development. Although S. 3180 did not make it out of the Senate, one thing was clear: the concept of what constituted "impairment" was at issue.

Through all these disputes regarding the protective clauses of the CRSP, the Park Service remained a loyal supporter of building protective measures and following Congress's intent as defined in Section 3. But in August 1960, the Park Service and environmentalists lost an important ally in the fight to protect Rainbow Bridge. In a letter to Wayne Aspinall, Stuart Udall, then a Congressman, urged that doing nothing at Rainbow Bridge was the most ethical course of action. In his capacity as a member of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Udall was in an influential position regarding the decision to fund protective measures. He had long been in the forefront of the contemporary conservation movement. But since there was absolutely no hope that the Bureau of Reclamation would abandon the Glen Canyon project or modify its proposed location, Udall reasoned that trying to protect the bridge violated one of the cardinal principles of conservation: destroying more to save less. He wrote to Aspinall:

As I conceive it, from my study of the history of conservation in America, the one overriding principle of the conservation movement is that no works of man (save the bare minimum) should intrude into the wonder places of the National Park System. A corollary of this principle is that even the waters of a man-made lake or reservoir constitute an unwarranted Park invasion. Therefore, as I see it, building either of the two proposed dams near the artificial "boundaries" of the Monument would sacrifice the cardinal principal in order to save its corollary. [279]

Glen Canyon Dam
Figure 28 Glen Canyon Dam under construction (Bill Belknap Collection, NAU.PH., Cline Library, Northern Arizona University)

Eventually Udall had to make some difficult decisions regarding Rainbow Bridge. Appointed Secretary of the Interior by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Udall inherited the CRSP and all its associated political baggage. Udall was immediately placed in the awkward position of balancing highly competitive interests between the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service. The Department of the Interior was supposed to represent the philosophies of all its subordinate agencies. But in the case of Rainbow Bridge, there was little room for policy compromise. The simple fact was that Section 1 of the CRSP left to the Secretary of the Interior the decision over what constituted "adequate protective measures" at the bridge. No standard had been established to gauge how far the Secretary needed to go in protecting Rainbow Bridge. As he had expressed in part of his letter to Aspinall in 1960, Udall reasoned that he could interpret the intent of Section 1 of the CRSP to mean doing nothing was the best alternative. Even certain members of the Park Service, such as Regional Director Jerome Miller, were advising Director Wirth that the impacts from building access roads and constructing protective measures might be more deleterious to Rainbow Bridge ecosystem than water from Lake Powell. [280] Secretary Udall understood that Rainbow Bridge NM, at only 160 acres, was not large enough to warrant national park status and any plan to increase the monument's boundaries would include complex and difficult negotiations with the Navajo Nation. Barring park status, the fight with Congress for funds to protect the bridge was a losing battle.

Ultimately, Congress removed from Secretary Udall's hands the decision over whether or not to protect the bridge. In 1961, Congress revealed it had no intention of funding the protective measures stipulated in the CRSP. In March 1961, Senator Wallace F. Bennet (R-UT) introduced another bill designed to strip the CRSP of its teeth. S. 1188 mimicked the language of the infamous Moss bill. At the same time, Moss introduced his bill again, this time as S. 175. [281] While these two measures failed, Congressional appropriations committees knew how to block the protection of Rainbow Bridge: they simply refused funding in Reclamation and Park Service appropriations acts. In fact, Department of the Interior budgets in 1960, 1961, and 1962 were approved by Congress only after the addition of a line item that specifically denied funding of protective measures. [282] As a result of the appropriations process, as well as the continued legislative efforts to rewrite the CRSP in the Senate, the Department of the Interior did not include any requests for funds for protective measures in its 1963 budget proposal. [283] Without changing a single word in the CRSP, Congress made protecting Rainbow Bridge a moot issue with respect to completing Glen Canyon Dam. After 1962, the Secretary of Interior was no longer in a position to actively pursue protecting Rainbow Bridge; however, environmental groups were not ready to abandon the fight. Brower and Packard lobbied everyone they could think of to compel federal officials to honor the protective terms of the CRSP. Brower believed that Congress and the Secretary of the Interior would never skate past the legal imperative of protection. To Brower, not protecting Rainbow Bridge was the same thing as wantonly breaking the law. Until 1960, Secretary Seaton was sending Brower all the right messages: while Congress was defunding protective measures, the Department of the Interior announced it would lobby Congress for funds at Rainbow Bridge. In early 1960, Seaton penned a personal note to Brower at the bottom of a press release that said, "let me assure you that it is my firm policy, as well as that of all personnel of my department, that any actions or activities of this Department will be in conformance with existing law." [284] Commissioner Dominy even wrote to Senator Bennett in 1961 to assure the Senator that Reclamation could build the protective measures for under $8,000,000 "as soon as the Congress appropriates the funds." [285] Brower was understandably panicked at being told everyone supported protecting Rainbow Bridge while watching Congress refuse funding year after year.

Glen Canyon Dam
Figure 29 Glen Canyon Dam, June 1963 (Woodrow Reiff Collection, NAU.PH.99.5.149, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University)

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Last Updated: 07-Feb-2003