February 12, 2020 |Fort McDowell, AZ|01:02:33

Harris, Chris Oral History Interview

Jennifer Sweeney 00:00:00


This is Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney of Arizona State University interviewing Chris Harris at the We-Ko-Pa Resort in Fort McDowell, Arizona on February 12th, 2020. Thanks for joining us today, Chris.

00:00:01 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:00:14

You’re very welcome.

Would you start out by telling us the positions that you’ve held in the Adaptive Management Program and the years that you were involved?

00:00:16 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:00:23

I first got involved in the, what was known as the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies [GCES] efforts. So right before, um (pause) the initial EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] was prepared and released. So what is that mid-1990s? ’94, ’95, somewhere in there. Dave Wegner was running the GCES for the Bureau of Reclamation. Duncan Patten was like a senior scientist, I think from ASU [Arizona State University] at the time. Um, and then, the, the usual stakeholder, uh, community was, was all involved. Um, my first, um, foray up there was basically on behalf of the Arizona Department of Water Resources [ADWR] and, uh, just paying attention to the development of the Environmental Impact Statement that was called for in the Grand Canyon Protection Act of ’92, I think. And, um, so I would go up and, normally these meetings were held up on Greenway [Road, in Phoenix], just, uh, adjacent to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. There was a, a motel up there right off the I-17. And, uh, I won’t say it was monthly, but maybe quarterly meetings. And that was my first introduction to the process, and understanding that there was concern, um, within the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service and others about Glen Canyon Dam operations and the impacts through Grand Canyon National Park. The Department’s [Arizona Department of Water Resources] interest, um, then, and probably still today, is more related to the annual release, the regulatory release of water from Glen Canyon Dam down to Lake Mead, uh, to meet downstream demands in the three Lower Basin States of Arizona, California, and Nevada. So, uh, my last five years that I was at ADWR, um, I worked on that as well as the Lower Colorado River Multi-species Conservation Program [LCR MSCP]. Was one of the, uh, folks who helped get that program up and going. But, uh, so I was there in ’96 when we had the final EIS Record of Decision [ROD] and the creation of the Adaptive Management Work Group [AMWG]. I was the Department’s, um, AMWG representative. And, uh, I also attended TWG [Technical Work Group] meetings, the T – W – G, um, some of the ad hoc groups as they came along.

Chris Harris 00:03:02

So I worked for all of the–jeez, I think the first Chief was probably Dave Garrett. Um, GCMRC [Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center] Chief, and then Barry Gold, and I worked my way all the way through. I left ADWR in 2000 and, uh, moved to the state of California, and I am now the executive director of the Colorado River Board of California. And we also hold the AMWG and TWG representative seats for the state of California. So I’ve continued participation in the process all the way up through the LTEMP [Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan] and you know, so on and so forth. Um, been a very fascinating project. I mean, it’s one of those big, you know, multi-stakeholder, um, lots of different objectives and goals and so forth. Um, processes, kind of messy (pause) probably more messy than not, over the course of time. Uh, and, and there’s some reasons, we can kind of talk about that, um (pause) the messiness of the process. But, to my mind, it’s one of the first big and probably quasi-successful adaptive management programs, at least in North America. I think other, there are other efforts around the world that I’m aware of. And I think all of them work, you know, parts of them work pretty well. Other parts probably don’t. Um (pause) I think it’s been beneficial to (pause) gaining a better understanding of how dam operations affect the ecosystem, um, below Glen Canyon Dam, and I think that’s been really beneficial. Bringing science to bear. I think that’s always a good thing. I think we’ve made a difference with management of the humpback chub population. That’s been a good thing.

Chris Harris 00:04:57

Let’s talk about, kind of, some of the, the messiness in the process. And I’m going to compare and contrast. You have the LCR MSCP, the Multi-Species Conservation Program, which is a similar large-scale, multi-stakeholder environmental effort from Lake Mead down to northern International Boundary with Mexico, so down to Yuma [Arizona]. That has people, all the stakeholders who are involved in that have skin in the game, they have money, they’re paying money. So, um, it’s a th–two-thirds of a billion-dollar program in 2003 dollars. So, and it’s a fifty-year program, so by the time you’re done you’re, you will have spent well over a, a billion dollars on that. The MSCP. And it restores habitat, manages endangered species. So there’s a lot of similarities to the Glen Canyon process. But we split the cost of that program, 50-50 between the feds and the non-feds. And then, between the three states, we divvied it up 50% to California, 25% to Arizona, 25% to Nevada. And then within each state, each state worked out a [cough] a funding cost-sharing relationship among all of the stakeholders who derive benefit from the program. And the benefit in the program are Endangered Species Act, um, incidental take authorizations. So you have a Section 7 Consul–Biological Opinion for the Bureau of Reclamation and the other federal agencies, and then you have a Section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take authorization for all the non-federal entities. And so, all of us have money in the game. We’re not relying on congressional appropriations. We all put money up and we pay for this program. So I think everybody’s (pause) ox was somewhat similar.

Chris Harris 00:06:47

Where, in the Glen Canyon process, and I don’t mean this in the pejorative, but there are a lot of different stakeholder goals and objectives in that program and, and many times they’re very far apart from one another. So it’s hard to find that middle ground that, um, you can kind of all forge ahead as a, as a community, as a group. And (pause) and I will say, at times, we have. We’ve developed, you know, uh, what the heck did we call them, um? (Pause) [It] wasn’t knowledge assessment, what the hell were they? Um, we worked on some goals and objectives. In fact, Randy Seaholm was the chairman of that ad hoc group that helped put those together. Kind of defined what the scientific questions that we wanted to–the program to work on over the succeeding years. And, uh, you know, I think that worked pretty well. Other times we, we have some definite busts in there. And a, a great example is–I think the program, inherently, is going to struggle with two big issues. The first one is how to bridge the divide between Native American cultural values and western science and operational, administrative, and legal considerations. How do you bridge that? And a great example is, um, the killing of non-native fish, for example. If you do things that get rid of bad fish in that ecosystem below the dam, which, you know, the program has done over, uh, the period of time. But the tribes view life, it’s a very sacred thing to them. They do not support the taking of any life. Even if it’s a non-native fish that’s eating native fish, they think there’s got to be a different way. These things, it’s, it’s all for a purpose that we’re here, that those fish are here and, uh, many of the tribes that are involved in this program, that area is highly sacred, this is their birthplace. This is where they came from, the Sipapu, for them. And so it’s very holy, and life is very holy. We have never done a particularly good job of bridging that gulf that exists. We talk around it, the feds and everybody, we sit there and we listen to the tribes tell us that they have problems with this, that, or the other thing, because of this issue or that issue. And a lot of times it, it seems to me that there–you know, we say, “We hear you, thank you very much,” and then we just keep doing these things. So I think that’s something that we’ve got to struggle with.

Chris Harris 00:09:31

The other inherent tension that I think the program has always struggled with is th–trying to find this balance with the management of a blue ribbon, uh, non-native trout fishery below the dam at the same time as you’re trying to manage a federally endangered species that some of those trout are eating. Now, this gets to the Arizona Game and Fish Department because, you know, part of their statutory mandate is to manage the wildlife resources on behalf of the citizens of the state of Arizona to the benefit of the citizens of the state of Arizona. Trout fishing is a great experience. You know, it’s a business, uh, interest. There–they’ve got all the Marble Canyon lodges up there and the guides and so forth. It’s a big deal. I get it, but I don’t think we’ve done a particularly satisfactory job of finding that balance. Sure. It’s, you know, those dam releases have set up a good cold-water fishery. I get that. But, uh, by the same token, I think it’s, it’s also, perf–it’s been a challenge that I don’t know that the program has particularly dealt with well. We’ve had conflicts in there periodically, because Game and Fish Department wants to, to take some activities, which is clearly within their purview and it, but it may be counterproductive to some of the other aspects of managing, long-term, adaptive management program [sic].

Chris Harris 00:10:54

Um, and again, I, you know, I think part of it, too, is trying to find this balance between, um, managing the facility, Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, and making the annual releases that you’re required to under the Law of the River, um, and doing it in such a fashion to minimize, to, to the practical extent that you can, impacts on the Grand Canyon riverine ecosystem. Um, sometimes that’s challenging, too. If you have a large release year, you know, if hydrology is really good, like in 2011, where you have monster, uh, flows coming into Lake Powell, you actually had to equalize the contents between the two reservoirs, Powell and Mead, and you’re ending up, basically, moving a lot of that sediment that you’re trying to keep in the sandbars and the beaches straight downstream. Again, counterproductive to the long-term goals and objectives of the program. So you’re always kind of looking for that, you know, that balance in there. Um, I think we’ve gotten better at it over time. I think we’ve learned how to play in the sandbox together, you know. Uh, and–the Adaptive Management Work Group–have you guys been to a meeting? So you’ve seen–it’s, it’s big. It’s–it could easily sit around this horseshoe right here [referring to large meeting setup in hotel conference room]. A lot of people, and a diverse group of stakeholders, NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] and, uh, tribes and states, water users, power customers. Um, I think the other thing that’s kind of interesting too is, you know, for this program, at least up until relatively recently, it was the power revenues that paid for the lion’s share of it. And I think we’re undergoing somewhat of a shift now with, um, how the Upper Basin Development Fund and those CRSP, the Colorado River Storage Project revenues are going to be utilized going forward. That may diminish, they may need to, the feds may need to seek more, uh, appropriations. That will result in less certainty and probably reliability on, for example, the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] budget process for the GCMRC. And maybe even for Reclamation to some degree. Or, at least, it shifts the burden back onto Reclamation, and maybe to the USGS. So, in periods, times when budgets are short, you know, you can start seeing programs like this maybe get pinched a little bit. But uh, so we’ll see.

Is that where you were going at the beginning of the interview, you mentioned, you were comparing GCDAMP [Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program] with the multi-stakeholder thing and saying that, in in the latter, people had skin in the game, and–

00:13:23 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:13:35

They w–

an you finish your thought there?

00:13:35 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:13:36

Sure, because everybody had to put up their money. That 623 million that everybody signed a piece of paper, said for the next fifty years, this is how we’re going to pay for the MSCP in the Lower Basin. And we all went on the hook, signed a funding and management agreement, all of the stakeholders, who get incidental take authorization under those permits. So the feds and the non-feds. And, so we’ve got, you know, pages of signatures from various agency heads, and everybody committed their fiscal resources over this fifty-year period to pay their share. And I think that’s part, that’s, that’s a big difference here, because the, the, the Adaptive Management Program lives on hydropower revenues. To a large degree. There is a, an annual appropriation from Reclamation. Um, there are several pots of money that they use, but the biggest pot of money is, is the power revenues. So that–

How does that affect the success of the program, in your–?

00:14:34 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:14:37

Well, I think you’ve got a lot of people sitting at the table that aren’t paying. So it’s, it’s different when (pause) if you, you know, walk into my store, and you get to tell me how to, you know, run my store, but you’re not paying the bills to keep the electricity on and all that, it’s a little different relationship, isn’t it? Than you and me owning the store together and making those joint decisions on how we spend our money, how we make our money, uh, the things that are important to both of us, we have to negotiate those things based upon contract or whatever. Um, so I think that’s, that’s, uh, it’s a big difference. And I think, you know, when you look around, I, now, I’ve done this. I’ve actually looked at programs around, and I think, the ones where you tend to have the most buy-in and the most, um, I won’t say success. But the most buy-in. That everybody’s bought in, in principle. Conceptually, they think, you know, “We’re all in this together. We’re kind of one big team.” It’s those who all have something in there. They, they’ve got a vested interest. Maybe that’s it. It’s a vested interest. Now, that does not take away the vested interest that people have in this program, whether you’re a Native American tribe, or you’re an NGO, whose–your overall goal is to make the Colorado River Basin a better place. Or, the National Park Service and their Organic Act of preserving and managing effectively and efficiently Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a World Heritage Site, so it’s, it’s incredibly valuable to everybody on the planet. Um, but it’s, you know, each of those is very different than, you know, we’re all (pause) and I think that was part of, always, it was always going to be part of the problem when, when we went into the Grand Canyon Protection Act. Um, and I will give Bob Lynch props here. He was one of the ones that helped get the Act passed in the very early nineties. I mean, he really was. Um (pause) so, I think everybody knew this was going to be, uh, a real big deal, trying to put together a group that could help the Secretary of Interior and the federal agencies, the federal family, the tribes, everybody, come up with something that could, um, lead to an improvement of ecological conditions below Glen Canyon Dam. And to that extent, I think it has been successful and continues to be successful because we do stop continually and scratch our heads and say, “Is this the best way we could do it?” Are there, is there, are there additional questions that we need to frame up and develop a hypothesis test to see our way through them and develop some data that can better guide us in making management decisions related to operations of the dam. So that part I think has been successful.

Chris Harris 00:17:43

And the other part I think that has been successful is taking such a diverse large group stakeholders and keeping them at, at uh, since what 1996 when I believe the first AMWG meeting was held, if I recall correctly, somewhere around there, shortly after the Record of Decision came out when Secretary [Bruce] Babbitt signed it. I think it was Bruce. Yeah, it was. Um, so that’s a big deal where you have a program going, you know, this long and it’s still kind of percolating along. And I would say in many respects, um, there are some shining moments. Um (pause) one of them is, I think we’ve done better by the humpback chub, the endangered humpback chub, I think, you know, we’ve seen an improvement there. I think it’s now our largest core population in the Basin, is the one, uh, right down there by the confluence of the Little Colorado [River] and the mainstream. Um, I think we still struggle with the sediment thing. We all realize there’s just a paucity of sediment. You have a large dam there that cuts off muddy water coming through Grand Canyon. And you don’t have those big monster spring, uh, runoff flows in May and June, like you used to. Uh, you know, the, the riverine ecosystem through Grand Canyon National Park since Glen Canyon [Dam] closed in ’63, ’64, is a radically different place than, uh, now than it was before the dam went in. Um, but that’s, that’s the reality. It is there. You can’t hindsight on this, you know, it’s not worth it anyways.

Speaking of the humpback chub, you mentioned, uh, that’s one of the success stories–

00:19:21 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:19:25

It is.

What do you think about the, uh, recent proposal by the Department of Interior to downlist it from endangered to threatened? Do you think it’s ready for that? Is that a sign of success or something [unintelligible].

00:19:25 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:19:36

Well, I’m not a biologist. Um, you know, all I can do is look at the proposed rule that they put out recently, and I did look at it. Um, they say that the core populations–don’t get me wrong, there, the rule is very clear. There are still significant threats to that species. And they’re spelled out in black and white. Um, but I think they believe that, based upon the ongoing management programs and activities that–throughout the Basin, not just the Adaptive Management Program, but up in the Upper Basin Recovery Program and so forth, that uh, it sounds to me, their assessment is, what can be done is being done and will continue to be done. And I think as long as that’s the case, maybe it does make sense to adjust the (pause) categorization, the characterization of that particular species. I think they’re doing the same thing for razorback sucker. Um, I assume that they’ll watch it closely, and if monitoring indicates that it’s turning for the south, that there would be a, again, use adaptive management, you’d readjust that. So I think it makes sense. You know, it makes sense.

So it sounds like you have a very, a large perspective on the Adaptive Management Program and its–how it functions, and you seem to have a commitment to seeing it, uh, be successful. Um, but at the same time you’re on the Adaptive Management Work Group as a representative of one of the stakeholder interests. Can you talk a little bit, um, uh, more in a focused sense about how you see your role, um, uh, as, as a representative of the Colorado River Board, (speaking simultaneously) and the state of California?

00:20:47 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:21:22

Sure, sure. First, just as a point of clarification, um, I’m actually the alternate now. Jessica Neuwerth is the primary, she’s the, uh, appointed member, and part of that’s just divvying up duties. I’ve got a lot, it’s–she can make the time commitment to attend all of these meetings. Sometimes I can’t. In fact, if you’ve gone, you would notice I’m not there a lot. So, um, my interest, the state of California’s interest is somewhat different than, um (pause) the Upper Basin states, or even, perhaps, the state of–it’s definitely different than the state of Arizona’s. My interest is to ensure that the Adaptive Management Program is implemented pursuant to the Record of Decision, now for the Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan, the LTEMP, and then what elements of the original ’96 ROD still apply. But, um, and that are not in conflict or, um, impede the implementation of the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines [Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead] and conjunctive management of Lakes Mead and Powell. So, uh, California’s interest is probably first and foremost that, um, the annual movement of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead is, you know, done through the Annual Operating Plan process, according to the 2007 Guidelines, using the tier determinations between the two reservoirs and the twenty-four-month study reports, et cetera. Now, having said that, how that water is moved during the course of the year, monthly volumes and all of that, we are completely copacetic and delighted to, um, support and participate in things that benefit the, uh, the, the riverine ecosystem below the dam, and that benefit native and endangered species. Um, so, uh, we tend to be, you know, pretty supportive of everything that the program is doing. Um, and really not throw too much up in the way of roadblocks or anything like that.

Chris Harris 00:23:47

We pay attention, we do attend, uh, regularly, uh, re–we review documents, we participate in the preparation of documents. We, uh, participate in ad hoc groups, particularly budget ad hoc, even though we’re not a CRSP, we have no Colorado River Storage Project contracts, in California. There is no CRSP, um, power that comes to, to California. So, uh, um you know, our, our interest is a little different. I think Nevada may have a little bit of CRSP power. I think, Arizona has some, for sure. And, uh, Leslie James and CREDA [Colorado River Energy Distributors Association], I mean she’s here in Phoenix. But, uh, and then Arizona Game and Fish, you know, their deep connection to that Lees Ferry trout fishery, as well as the other wildlife, uh, in the Grand Canyon. So, we’re, we’re pretty different we’re more focused on the water supply, the annual water supply and annual regulatory release out of Glen Canyon Dam. That’s kind of our big, um, stake in the process, is to ensure that uh, it’s done according to the Law of the River and, uh, and right now that’s through the 2007 Guidelines.

So it seems like, um, uh, kind of makes it, uh, so that California doesn’t have to worry too much about, um, uh, changes to dam operations, because the people who seem to be most concerned about altering dam operations are the hydropower interests.

00:24:58 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:25:16


And if you’re not getting hydropower, you’re going to get that water anyway.

00:25:16 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:25:19


It just may not be timed in the same way [C.H.: Right] that it otherwise would, so there’s not a whole lot of potential threat to your interests in the Adaptive Management Program.

00:25:19 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:25:30

And if you talk to other state representatives, a common theme, I think, that all seven [Colorado River Basin] states share is interstate comity. That we tend to work better collaboratively and cooperatively. So, it would be (pause) doggoned unusual for the state of California to take a position that might be directly, uh, counter to one or more of, for example, my sister states in the Upper Basin. Or the state of Arizona. If something is particularly important to one or more states, that’s something that we certainly would pay attention to. And, uh, and we have had discussions along the way on, on some things, um, where we had to get off as, as states and talk. Um, part of, you know, when we were kind of developing the LTEMP process, there was quite a bit of that. Where the states had to, even without the Interior agencies, we had to go off and have some discussions on what our vision of a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan EIS, and what the results could lead us to. And how that would affect the ability of the two basins to conjunctively manage those two large reservoirs. So, um, I would say (pause) pretty much at all times one of our primary considerations will always be, is kind of where are we as a, as seven Basin states. Um, and kind of even within the seven states, you know, your large water users within each of those states, what’s sort of the view of the world. Some of them are big CRSP customers and, if things are particularly galling to them, it’s good to understand what their issues are. So I think we do communicate a lot. And I really want to emphasize that not only among the states, but I think there’s, you know, one good thing about this program is (pause) you know, and this is the thing, this is the beauty of these types of processes, is that it leads you to, and encourages and fosters, more collaboration, cooperation and communication. And every time you do that, typically good things result. May not be perfect. Not everybody’s sacred cows getting, get a–get a free pass. But pretty much if you’re willing to kind of leave your baggage at the door and sit down and honestly share your thoughts, you know, you can, you can advance the ball, kind of keep it rolling forward. And I think this program has done that in the main. It really has.

Chris Harris 00:28:10

I still think we’ve got a couple of hitches in our giddyup with respect to how we work most successfully, most effectively with the Native American tribes who have interests in this process and program. And then also this whole non-native fish [versus] native fish dilemma that we have. Those are kind of the two big overarching things that I, I just (pause) doesn’t keep me up at night anymore. I’m too close to retirement for that. But, um, I used to stew over it, you know, how can you come up with a way to, to listen to what [tribal representatives] Kurt Dongoske or Mike Yeatts or Leigh [Kuwanwisiwma], uh, say, you know, with respect to what Hopi thinks, what Navajo thinks, what Zuni thinks? And how do you meaningfully incorporate their feelings and their desires and their long-term goals into this big kind of science, western science-based program? And that’s a tough one. It really is. I don’t know that, you know, any of us have got a, a real good idea yet. I cast around all the time. And, you know, I talked to these guys a lot and, uh (pause) I think (pause) when I was younger–I’m talking a lot but you want me to–um, when I was younger I talked a lot. And I didn’t listen as much. And I think as you get older, you know, I’m getting older, I’m sixty-four, so, you begin to listen more. And um (pause) that’s a good thing. It’s been good for me, because now I’m, I’m, I would say, in the twilight of my career, I’m really beginning to more fully understand and grasp what’s important to people, whether it’s this Glen Canyon program specifically or, or the other things that we all work on day in and day out. Even sitting down and listening to your wife, just keep your damn mouth shut and listen.

Chris Harris 00:30:11

And, uh, so I think (pause) part of our process is doing just that, and really trying to fully understand, you know, what–Larry Stevens, what, you know, he’s a scientist, he’s a pure scientist. And that’s how he views the world is, is through that lens of– he’s been down there umpteen million times. I don’t know, probably, if anybody’s been down that river, up and down that river, more than Larry. He knows where the rocks are, every one of them. And um, you know, sometimes he can go off in some little place and get into the weeds, and you sit there and scratch your head, “Where are we going here?” But, if you actually listen to him, there’s, there’s a problem in there that he’s, he’s intellectually curious about, and he thinks it’s important. And, uh, nine times out of ten, he’s probably right. And I’ve, you know, I’ve partici–Larry has been with this program longer than I have. For sure. And, uh, he’s, you know, I would call him kind of one of the fathers of this program. I really would. Um, there are damn few of them out there, but Larry’s one of them, for sure. Dongoske’s, another one, Mike Yeatts and, uh, these people–

We’ve interviewed all of them. Fortunately. It’s [unintelligible, speaking simultaneously].

00:31:28 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:31:30

Yeah, well that’s great, and I’m glad to hear that because, uh, I have a profound, uh, sense of admiration and respect for each one of them. Um, you know, I think when I first got involved in it, there was a lot of the us versus them. And I don’t think there’s any of that any longer. It’s much more, this is a shared responsibility.

Do you recall when and why that culture change in the program happened?

00:31:54 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:31:59

You know, I don’t, and I wouldn’t, I won’t speak for the program that there’s been a culture shift within the program, because new people come in and, and old people go out, and I think everybody has to discover that. (Pause.) So, any time you bring somebody new from a water management agency into this, there’s always going to be that initial learning curve that they have to, to get over. Because they’re going to look at it as it, this is, uh, us, the water management folks, against this whole ecosystem management program, and there’s probably a downside in here for water management if I look carefully enough. And, in some respects, maybe there is. But the other thing is, there’s opportunity. And I think we’ve shown that, since 1996 and the EIS and the Record of Decision, that we can do both. Maybe not as well as everybody would like, on either side, but we’ve been able to do both. We’ve been able to continue to manage Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam operations. Um, yeah, we tuned down the, the generation of hydropower somewhat. So there was a loss of, of, you know, uh, maximum flexibility for hydropower generation [P.H.: Right], pre-EIS (pause) to what it is now. And LTEMP tuned it even, uh, you know, down a little bit more, perhaps. Um, but at the same token, you know, I think we’ve managed to find a, a decent balance in there. And part of that, for me, that learning curve was getting to the place where I was comfortable with that, being able to make those, um, acknowledge it, and understand it, and recognize that, you know, this was okay. It was the right thing to do. And, uh, so I, I do think, you know, all in all, it has been the right thing to do. Be involved in this program, um, to help, um, shepherd it along and, and to watch it grow. And, uh, but I, so I, I do think there probably has been collected–I’ll tell you, um, this is worth pointing out. There is, have you talked to Anne Castle?

Yes. We did an interview with her.

00:34:16 Paul Hirt
Jennifer Sweeney 00:34:55

Was it the Desired Future Conditions?

Chris Harris 00:34:56

That’s it, DFCs.

Jennifer Sweeney 00:34:56


Chris Harris 00:34:57

Thank you very much. That’s it. The DFCs. And Randy Seaholm was the chairman of that work group that worked on that. And that was one of Anne’s big things, she wanted us to develop those and, you know. And that kind of helped us all put together in our heads this collective vision of, kind of, what we, where we thought we could go with this thing. And I think that’s been helpful. And, I think Anne’s leadership was clearly an inflection point that was for the good, it was a positive thing. Where we actually shifted and kind of went in a, a highly appropriate direction. And I worry you now, uh, with this administration that we (pause) it’s a little different. And, every administration is different. I don’t want to talk politics at all. It’s just, you know, every administration is different. Um, that one was fully committed to it. We did LTEMP during that administration. And I think that was a successful process, we, um, utilized all of the information we had collected since 1996 to again, like I say, kind of come in and fine-tune the machine of the Adaptive Management Program. And I think that’s been good. Um (pause) so, towards that end, I think it’s on a pretty good trajectory right now. I do worry a little bit about, sort of, the long-term funding, we kind of talked about that, shifting from power revenues, and maybe now you get more involved in having to go back and do a little tin cup begging with Congress for appropriations, stuff like that. That can always be a little risky. But, um, in the main, I think it’s, it’s, you know (pause) if we can figure out how to work better with the Native American tribes, and (pause) and ultimately, at the end of the day, um, this whole trout issue I think has got to, it’s kind of an eight hundred-pound gorilla. And I’m not going to–I’m a trout fisherman, I was born and raised in Montana, so, I, I love trout fishing. Um, I just don’t know that, you know, there’s, uh, sustainability of trying to manage a blue-ribbon trout fishery at the same time you’re trying to manage a whole collection of native fish and fauna, uh, in that reach below Glen Canyon Dam, how that’s going to work out at the end of the day. I think that’s still an open, open book.

So Chris, uh, I think you’re the first person we’ve interviewed who’s mentioned the 2007 Interim Guidelines for shortage sharing. Um, could you talk just a little bit more about how that impacts the Adaptive Management Program and then also, you know, just last year, we had a historic agreement that kind of extended the 2007–

00:37:34 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:37:56

The DCP [Drought Contingency Plan], yeah.

Yeah, the DCP, can you talk about that? And–

00:37:57 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:37:59

Certainly. The, um (pause) let’s first talk about the guidelines. There are two aspects of the guidelines that are very important. The first aspect is the conjunctive management of the two reservoirs. And by that I mean, we’re going to make operational decisions regarding regulatory releases out of Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam, based upon the annual contents in the two reservoirs. And there are critical water surface elevations that have been identified in both reservoirs that, if you drop Mead down or Mead goes way up, and Lake Powell is down or Lake Powell is up, depending upon where the two reservoirs are at particular times of the year, August and April of each year. Um, there are management decisions that can–that need to be set up, and, uh, folks around the table, Reclamation and the states particularly, need to decide what they’re going to do. So let’s take a surplus condition. Let’s go back to 2011, when we had a really good water year, hydrology was really–my God, we had 150% of normal, something like that. And we had just mondo, uh, regulated inflow into Lake Powell in the, in the spring. So the April through July runoff really put a bunch of water in Lake Powell, and raised it up. But Lake Mead was way down. So, based upon the criteria in those guidelines, we had reached elevations in Powell, and Lake Mead was at an elevation, such that we had to then equalize the contents of the two reservoirs to the extent that is practically possible. So that meant that, in the Annual Operating Plan [AOP] that year, you had to make a release [of water from Glen Canyon Dam] of (pause) I don’t recall, I don’t have it off the top of my head, but, twelve million acre-feet, something like that. Thirteen million acre feet, maybe more. I forget exactly. Now the AOP and the way the guidelines are set up, you’re supposed to pass that entire volume in that year, that twelve-month period.

Chris Harris 00:40:13

So you have an Annual Operating Plan, and it starts on October 1 and goes to September 30, and you have to pass that volume of water. And then you–Reclamation breaks that up into monthly volumes. But all of those are going to be pretty big. So if you look at a, a hydrograph for the year, any year, there’s always a minimum probable, a most probable, and then a maximum probable. And if you have a bar chart each month, minimum probable is going to have a release out of Glen Canyon Dam of yea high [gesturing], the most probable is here, and then the maximum probable is here. But if you’ve got a whole ton of water that you have to move through, well now people like the sediment guys are going to come in and say, “Holy cow, you know, you pass that much water down through the facility, yes, you’re going to generate a ton of hydropower, but you’re going to erode all my beaches.” And we’ve just spent the past three years doing these High Flow Experiments [HFEs], trying to, you know, preserve sandbars and perver–preserve sediment, and make backwaters for fish, and yada, yada ya. But if I’ve got to pass all this water, I’m going to mobilize that sediment take it on downstream, redistribute it. Ultimately, some of it probably even ends up in Lake Mead. So, sediment’s a scarce resource. And there was a discussion in 2011, can we hold back some of that yearly volume and release it the next year? And in fact, California grudgingly, and it’s probably the one and only time this, this is a place where California went into the AMWG and the AOP process and we said, “We think we need to release it in the twelve months. That’s what the guidelines say. It’s an annual supply to Lake Mead, we want to see all of it end up in Lake Mead.” But we did ultimately go along with everybody and said, “Okay, let’s not scrub out the Grand Canyon.” So, they did roll over a volume until the next year, and released it. So that’s a surplus condition. We haven’t had too many of those recently (laughter). In fact, since 2000, I think we’ve had (pause) [P.H.: Three] maybe four years where we’ve had above average, above average inflow into Lake Powell. But yeah, most of its, we’ve had the first, second, third, fourth, and, I think, fifth driest years of record in that same twenty-year period. So it’s been a relatively severely, uh, dry, uh, two decades.

Chris Harris 00:42:44

Let’s look at a shortage condition. So, um, this year, in fact, we’re going to–it’s projected that we’ll have an 8.23 million acre-foot release out of Glen Canyon Dam. If you look since 2007 to now, 2019, the average annual regulatory release out of Glen Canyon Dam is almost nine. It’s 8.9 something or other, 8.93 million acre-feet. Pretty close to nine. And if you look at the rolling ten-year average, um, the Upper Basin, if you go back to the [Colorado River] Compact, they have the rolling 75-10, seventy-five million acre-feet over ten consecutive years. That’s their Compact Article III(d) delivery obligation to the Lower Basin. And you go back since basically Glen Canyon Dam closed and it’s probably averaging something around eighty-five or ninety million acre-feet over that ten consecutive years. So there’s great concern that the Upper Basin states are releasing too much water to the Lower Basin. That’s not particularly germane to this program, but it’s germane to how the states participate in shaping the annual hydrograph, working on AOP [Annual Operating Plan], using the ’07 Guidelines. And this program functions within that environment, that landscape. A shortage condition in, um, the context of the Adaptive Management Program results in the opposite end of the spectrum. Let’s say Lake Powell is pulled way down. Rule of thumb, Powell leads, Mead follows. So, Powell recovers first when you get a lot of inflow, but it’s the one that drops down first, too. If times get tight and you go into drought, you’re going to pull Powell down, because you’re making these releases for uh, for water down to Mead. So, Powell leads, Mead follows. Mead’s always going to recover last and, you know, gain last. So, um, if you do in fact have, uh, low inflow conditions like we’ve been experiencing of late, you could actually get to the place where you have, like, a 7.48 million acre-foot release under the guidelines. Or if it was really bad, and Powell was way down and Mead was pretty far down too, um, you could even have a seven million acre-foot release. So you’re not going to be able to meet all downstream demand in Arizona, California, Nevada, because the senior water right in the system, the entire basin, is Mexico. 1.5 [million acre-feet]. They get their water. And then, you’ve got to divvy up what’s left for the Lower Basin. Unless you’re just going to continue to mine water out of, out of Lake Mead. Structural deficit.

Chris Harris 00:45:26

Um, so (pause) those conditions also make it challenging, for example, you may not be able to do a High Flow Experiment, even if you had sediment conditions, just because you may not be able to bunch up enough water for that month, or that ninety-six-hour period, or whatever you were going to do the High Flow Experiment. Because you would have to shift so much water from other months, and that might be way–take you down below, for example, uh, you know, what Western [Area Power Administration, WAPA] has their contractual obligations for generating power, et cetera. They’ve got to run enough water through the turbines to meet their contractual obligations. So I could see, even in a shortage situation, where you could have impacts on operations at the dam that could functionally affect this program, where you may not be able to do a spring HFE and/or a fall HFE. Even if you had sediment conditions such as they are. Just because of the, the water supply condition in the, in the two reservoirs. The DCPs are intended to, uh–

Drought Contingency Plan?

00:46:33 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:46:34

Drought Contingency Plan, yeah. That’s right, Paul. Um, they are not extending the ’07 Guidelines. They only add another layer of management on top of the existing ’07 Guidelines, and they expire at the end of the ’07 Guidelines which run through the annual operating plan of, uh, 2026. So, once you’ve developed the AOP for 2026 and it’s good to go, those guidelines would expire. Now the intention on the part of the Basin states and Interior and other stakeholders is to develop another set of guidelines that will guide us for the next interim period. Twenty, twenty-five years, I don’t know. Um, so we’re kind of starting that process, not precisely now, but shortly, here. We’ve got, what? Five years to kind of get that figured out and, and I think we’ll do it. Um, and I think, you know, considerations of the Adaptive Management Program are part of that process. Um, but the DCPs, the Drought Contingency Plans, the Lower Basin one, the intention is to (pause) instead of using [Lake Mead elevation] 1075 [feet] as the first place where you’d start reducing releases out of Lake Mead, shortages, you bump that up to 1090 [feet], and you have people making voluntary contributions and leaving water in Lake Mead. And, they can either leave it in their name, as Intentionally Created Surplus, ICS, or they can leave it as a system contribution, and do system conservation projects that just result in that water not having to be relea–or they could curtail use. They could just say, “I’m not going to take as much water,” and just leave that water in Lake Mead. So, the end result is, with the three Lower Basin states and all of their water users participating, and Mexico, through Minute 323, we now have the ability, if Lake Mead got down to 1025 you’re leaving, I think, something like 1.2 million acre-feet in Lake Mead. And, because Lake Mead would be down so low, the ability to recover those supplies each year is greatly reduced and limited. You can borrow, but you have to repay, um, and some people would be locked out completely, others might be able to access a little bit. Um, there’s, there’s a very complicated and complex set of rules that go along with, uh, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, that guide how that is implemented over the remaining seven years.

Chris Harris 00:49:19

The Upper Basin program is a little different. It’s, it’s two-pronged. The first one is a, uh, drought operations, where they could, if they wanted to, protect elevation thirty-five twenty-five [3,525’], which is, what, thirty (pause) thirty-five feet a–or twenty-five feet above thirty-four ninety [3,490’], which is the minimum power pool in Lake Powell. They could release water out of Flaming Gorge [dam] or the Aspinall Unit, and let that water come down and kind of pooch up, uh, elevation in Lake Powell. But, given the size of Flaming Gorge–what is it, three and-a-half million acre-feet, Aspinall maybe you’ve got eight hundred thousand, a million acre-feet? That’s probably a one-time deal. And then you have to refill all those upper system reservoirs. So, um, hopefully, we don’t ever get to that place.

Chris Harris 00:50:11

And then the other piece they’re working on is this demand management program, where they would do conservation like we’re doing down here in Arizona and California, creating ICS-like bundles of water, conserved consumptive use supplies, and then they would store those in Lake Powell and, hopefully to protect them from ever, um, one, not being able to make their Compact delivery obligation to the Lower Basin. And again, you know, that’s, it’s going to be a, a long, difficult program for them to stand up and, and put in place. And I, you know (pause) I hope that that, it’s never needed, you know. So I think we’re all trying to look ahead and see how we can take what we’ve done so far, um, adapt it, tweak it and so forth, and develop the next set of guidelines that everybody can live with. Uh, and obviously, keeping in mind what our Adaptive Management Program is trying to do at the same time is all part of it. Like I say, it’s nested in that landscape.

So are you hopeful about the future of the Adaptive Management Program?

00:51:17 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:51:22

Yeah, I would say, generally I am. Um, like I, I think the, probably the biggest fear is that an administration loses interest in it, or commitment. Or their commitment lessens. And that largely gets borne out through funding. So as long as you can kind of keep the revenue going to the program and, and keep, uh, the Interior agencies on board. You know, I’ll, I’ll tell you another interesting thing, I think originally early on in the program there was more tension between the federal agencies, too. The Interior agencies. Park Service, Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, particularly those three. It was kind of a triangle there. And Reclamation is one of the most professional organizations I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. They are sterling, in all respects. Consummate professionals. They have done a good job of facilitating and developing a good relationship among the federal family. And then somebody like Anne Castle comes in and just adds to that. She’s Water and Science, so she has USGS and Reclamation under her purview. And, that really worked well. And, uh (pause) because I can remember when it was more of a tussle between Fish and Wildlife Service and Reclamation, and National Park Service and Reclamation. And then you had the tribes, you know, all doing their thing too. And you know, so there was, there was, there were some donnybrooks. What’s that, uh, the PA, the Programmatic Agreement? That’s always been a tussle. Reclamation and, I guess, BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] is probably part of that, and then each of the tribes, negotiating that thing. And I think there have probably been two or three versions of that thing. I don’t know that there’s ever been just one–I think it kind of goes along and then they have to amend it, or they have to do a new one, and–maybe they did one with LTEMP. Um, that’s even gotten, I think, and, you know, maybe Dongoske and Mike [Yeatts] and others would have a different opinion, but I think that process has gotten better, too, over time. Um, but particularly that federal relationship between, primarily, those three agencies has gotten much better. They do speak, now, pretty much together, work together, collaborate together. It’s, it’s much better. Part of that is–have you talked to Jan Balsom?


00:53:52 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:53:53


(Speaking simultaneously) One of our longer interviews, and she was super helpful.

00:53:53 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:53:56

Jan’s another–yeah. Jan is another dear friend of mine, um, ton of respect for her too, because she’s been in this thing, you know, about as long as Larry Stevens.


00:54:04 Paul Hirt

And, uh (pause) so she would again be, you know, one of the mothers of the program, truly, and, uh, major props to her. Um, she’s come a long ways. I’ve really, she is a, a vital, critical part of this. And, uh (pause) she’s made a difference. I mean, Grand Canyon National Park has been, uh, very, very important to this. But it didn’t always start out that way. And then some of the Chiefs in the program, I think too, have made a real difference. Garrett was, he–

00:54:39 Paul Hirt

You mean Chiefs of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center?

00:54:39 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:54:40

GCMRC, exactly. Um, couple of them that really jump out at me as being incredibly valuable. One would be L. David Garrett. I mean, he got the thing going and uh, that, you know, that’s, that’s a landscape that’s littered with landmines. And he managed to avoid them. You know, he really did. And, uh, because none of us knew what the hell we were getting into at the time. It was really, really (pause) bootstrap, everybody just kind of, you know, “Okay, we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do here.” They were standing up the GCMRC. At first, I think it was, it might’ve been with the Forest Service, or he came from the Forest Service–

Reclamation. (Pause.) GCMRC was–

00:55:19 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:55:23

Was it originally [unintelligible] under Reclamation? Maybe it was.

First under Reclamation, and then went to USGS.

00:55:24 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:55:26

Yeah, yeah. And that was, that was a bit of a, a tricky, as I recall, now that you mention that, that was something that, there was initial concern with that, because, you know, they’re a premier science agency, don’t get me wrong. And you know, being a geologist, I, I dig them. I mean, you know, if you–perfect world, God, wouldn’t they be great to work for? But um (pause) yeah, you know, and I think it’s worked out pretty well. I think there were growing pains with them, too. I think they looked at it as, “Hey, this is going to be a way we can, you know, uh, put a lot of people to work, this is good for USGS,” you know? And I think they finally have found how they, they fit in as the science agency, and they’re not driving policy and, you know, but there, there’s always growing pains with figuring out what your role is and your responsibility. Jack Schmidt was a, another–

We interviewed him.

00:56:20 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:56:21

That’s good. Yeah, Jack is another guy I have profound respect for. He was a great Chief. Uh, one thing I loved about Jack’s management style, and maybe it was not what Interior, perhaps, wanted at the time. I think it worked out well, but Jack also wears his heart on his sleeve, and he tells you exactly what he thinks. And there are times when he’ll just say that, “Yeah, that’s not going to, I can’t do that. It’s not going to work. And here’s why.” And that’s hard for some people to hear. It’s not what they want to hear. They, you know, they kind of think, well, you know, you’re the government, you’ve got to, kind of, figure out how to do it. Jack would be like, “That’s not going to work. It’s just not going to work.” But, uh–

Well, he came out of academia. Which is–

00:57:02 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:57:03

Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, Utah State [University] and, you know, he’s a smart guy, and, uh, he knows the rivers in this basin like the back of his hand. Um, so he was, he was (pause) frankly, I think he was the right Chief at the right time. And I think he, he set a, a new standard for GCMRC. And I think Scott has, has taken that, uh, Scott VanderKooi, and has done great things since then. I think he’s, he’s been, it was good for him to sort of, uh, spend that time mentoring under Jack. Um, but, uh, they were a couple of the real important Chiefs that, you know, really do stand out. Like I said, I’m, I’m impressed with Scott too. I think he’s been very stable, and, uh, works well with, you know, the whole stakeholder family, so to speak. (Pause.) But, uh–

We’re hoping to get an interview with him. He–

00:57:58 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:58:00

Good. You should. Definitely. Um (pause) I think the big thing with GCMRC, and you’ve probably heard this before, is, I think the group has done a pretty good job of policing them to, um, limit, to the extent that we can, mission creep. You know, where–they do sometimes say, “You know, we ought to go up and study things below Flaming Gorge Dam.” Scientifically I think they’re probably right. But I think they’ve got to go find different pots of money if they’re going to do that, you can’t do it on the AMWG’s nickel. Um, so there’s been some of that, where we’ve had to kind of rein in the GCMRC. Not so much anymore. I think they’ve pretty much got their (pause) their boundaries are pretty well defined, even for themselves, where we don’t have to kind of push back on them and say, “No, that’s kind of outside your bailiwick.” But there was some of that.

So, um, can you wrap up by, um, telling us what advice you would give to new people coming into the program, representing one of the stakeholder interests? What, what advice would you give somebody who’s just getting started in this?

00:58:57 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 00:59:14

Well, like anything that has to do with the Colorado River, which arguably is one of the most intensively managed river systems in the world, maybe only exceeded by the Nile. Um, there’s, you’ve got to spend your time and, and try and get your arms and your brain wrapped around, uh, you know, what the river is, how it’s managed, and who the players are. And that can take, you can’t do that overnight. It just takes some time. (Pause.) Um. The best advice I would have to new people getting involved is, pay attention and listen. And understand, try and understand stakeholder goals and objectives in this program, and see if you can ferret out why those goals and objectives exist. In other words, why is Hopi sitting at the table? Why is the state of California involved in this program? So you have to kind of reach outside of the program to understand why some of us are there and, um, find out what, what is the hook that brings them? Why are they interested in this, or why do they need to be interested in this? Um, pay attention, listen, um, stay in touch with it. You know, I’m a fine example, I mean, in the past couple of years I probably have only been to one meeting. But my staff go, and, but you know, I stay very close to it. I participate in the monthly coordination calls that Heather Patno sets up. And, uh, and then obviously I look at it through the lens of, you know, how the water releases are made, um, through the AOP process, and implementation of the guidelines, and so forth. But, um (pause) and I, and then I think the other thing is, just be, you know (pause) honesty is everything in this thing. You know, you can’t go into this with hidden agendas and, you know, or thinking you’re going to be cute and clever. You’ve just got to tell people what your, your need is. You may not get it all. Um, but why this particular issue, if something comes up, raise your hand and articulate your interest in it. Um, even if it’s an opinion. Offer it. Because it helps other people better understand who you are. But, um, again, listen to what the people are saying around you. I think that’s probably the most important thing. (Long pause.) And, uh, participate to the extent that you can.

Great. Thanks, Chris.

01:02:05 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 01:02:07

No, you bet. Anything else?

Um, uh, you actually, without me even prompting, this list of fourteen questions, um, you, you touched on every single one of them. Like you have a photographic memory, you saw the sheet of questions, and you just breezed through them. It was amazing.

01:02:09 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 01:02:25

Well, good. Well, it was my pleasure.

Yeah. Thanks for taking time out to do this.

01:02:29 Paul Hirt
Chris Harris 01:02:31

You bet.

All right.

End of recording

01:02:32 Paul Hirt

No results found

Chris Harris

Fort McDowell, AZ


Interview conducted by: Dr. Paul Hirt, Arizona State University and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC. Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Administrative History Project. Administered by Arizona State University Supported by a grant from the US Bureau of Reclamation.


Chris Harris' involvement with GCDAMP goes back the early 1990s. During Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (GCES), he monitored the Glen Canyon Dam Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process on behalf of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). Before his fifteen years with ADWR, he worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Harris joined the Colorado River Board of California in 2000 and is currently Executive Director. He has represented ADWR and Colorado River Board of California on AMWG (Adaptive Management Work Group) and has worked closely with TWG (Technical Work Group).

Harris, Chris Oral History Interview Transcript 2-12-2020

File size:
316.38 KB
File type:
File date:
Feb 12, 2020
Download Transcript

Harris, Chris Oral History Interview 2-12-2020

File size:
57.28 MB
File type:
File date:
Jun 18, 2020
Download Audio File
Last 30 days: 920 page views
Since listed: 471 page views

Suggested Bibliographic Citation

Harris, Chris. ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW. Transcript of recorded Interview conducted by Paul Hirt, Arizona State University, and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC, on 12 Feb 2020, at Fort McDowell, Arizona. Edited by Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney.
Citation copied to clipboard