Seaholm, D. Randolph Oral History Interview
This is Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney of Arizona State University, speaking with Randy Seaholm in Arvada, Colorado on April 27 . Randy, thank you so much for joining us today.
Can you start out by telling us your name–your full name–the positions that you’ve held in the adaptive management program, and the years that you were involved?
Okay. My name is Randy Seaholm. I started working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Colorado River issues extensively in 1990. I started participating in the Grand [Glen] Canyon AMP [Adaptive Management Program] in 2000 and I was, actually I was made the designated TWG [Technical Work Group] representative on behalf of the state of Colorado in July of 2000. I also served as an alternate member to the AMWG and I only had a couple of meetings in that capacity. I retired in November, 2009. Following my retirement, I was retained as a consultant by the state of Colorado to advise them on GC AMP [GCDAMP] activities, and I remain a TWG alternate to this day.
To this day (laughter). It’s amazing to me how, um, much longevity a lot of the members of the AMWG and TWG have, it’s–a lot of people have been there for decades.
What keeps you motivated to stay involved for so long?
I’ve always found Colorado River issues just fascinating. The GC AMP is throwing a couple of monkey wrenches, if you will, into operations on the Colorado River, which I got to know very well, and we’ll go into those as we go along.
Yeah. We’ll get into those. So, um, the next question is about what aspect of the program you were mostly involved in. There’s a lot of people who primarily do scientific research, other people primarily do policy and management type work. What was your main contribution, your main interest?
Okay, I would consider my main responsibilities in policy and management, but I have a technical background in natural resources, so I’ve crossed the line on occasions, but mostly policy and management.
And what aspect of natural resources are, is in your background?
Okay. I had a degree in watershed science [P.H.: nice] from Colorado State University. So, I’m neither an engineer or an attorney (laughter), which is certainly, well–
That’s good. Yeah. A lot of people who are working water policy are attorneys.
Right. And, you know, I’ve always found it fun to have a good debate with an attorney and come out on top (laughter).
So, um, since this is a history project, we’re very interested in change over time, and I wonder now if you can reflect a little bit on what kind of changes, macro or micro level changes, that you’ve seen in the program over the time that you’ve participated.
Okay. I guess I’ve seen the program evolve basically coming right out of the 1995 EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] and the responsibilities that were determined to be that, and that came out in a paper by Scott Loveless [US DOI solicitor], I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read any of the minutes and stuff at all.
Some of the more recent ones, but not all of the old ones.
Let me give you this. This is Scott’s paper, and it’s in the minutes from January of 2000, and it has a lot of questions that the, uh, AMWG asked for some direction on, to see where we can, you know, where we needed to focus our efforts and, kind of, what the bottom line is: we should be focusing on dam operations and not the existence of the dam. And that was–been a hard distinction to keep as we’ve gone along, and not one that a lot of the environmentalists in particular were interested in trying to abide by.
Can you, um, clarify for us a little bit more the dis–what you mean by that distinction between the operations of the dam versus the dam? Just say a little more about that.
Okay. Um, the existence of the dam caused a number of things to change in the Canyon, so it cut off the sediment supply that had come down the river and it caused a lot of the beaches to become hardened with river rock and stuff. Um, and that’s not something that you can really change through operations of the dam without interjecting additional sediment supply. And with respect to operation of the dam, um, that is generally operations that I think that you can make that can actually have an impact on the environment of the Canyon. So, for example, you can operate the dam in a manner that allows you to conserve the existing sand supply that comes in, put it up on beaches. And that’s what a lot of the experiments have aimed at doing. Going from Beach Habitat Building Flows, which we called them at the outset, habitat maintenance flows, and, as the reservoir dropped (laughs), to a variety of different experiments which we’re now looking at in the LTEMP [Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan].
And so, you were saying that some interest groups, including the environmentalists, were, um, interested in talking about the existence of the dam. You’re suggesting that other interest groups want to have the dam accepted as a de facto reality and talk about operation of the dam only.
Well, in all the documents that you look through, the existence of the dam is a given. It’s supposed to be there, and all the existing laws and everything that impacted operations of the dam were to stay in place. So, as we go through the adaptive management program, we were looking for operations that can be done within what we referred to as the Law of the River, how much water we in the Upper Basin or, I would say basically above Glen Canyon, have to make sure, um, that goes down the river to maintain that ten-year running average flow at Lee [sic] Ferry. And so we’re keenly interested in that. And then from the standpoint of power generation, of all the reservoirs we have above Lees Ferry, Glen Canyon is the biggest one, provides the most hydroelectric energy and power revenue, and that power revenue is necessary to not only maintain Glen Canyon, but all the other primary units of the Colorado River Storage Project, which include Blue Mesa, Navajo and Flaming Gorge are the primary ones, as well as Glen Canyon. And then we have a number of participating projects that were built with CRSP power revenues.
The Colorado River Storage Project. Um, we use acronyms, so make me clarify whenever you have a question (laughs).
Everybody uses acronyms (laughs).
But, so we have a number of what we call participating projects. The last one that was completed was the Animas-La Plata Project down there by Durango. So, CRSP revenues have to go towards the maintenance of that project as well as twenty-some other projects throughout the Upper Basin. And then, in addition, power revenues have to serve the Upper Colorado River recovery programs, both the Upper Colorado itself and the San Juan. Um, and it provides them, both of the, the money for those endeavors. And then it also contributes money to the Colorado River Salinity Control Program. So, we have all these interests in the power revenues, and so we try very hard to make sure that the revenues are maximized, like the law calls for, but at least maintained enough to fill your obligations. And if you can’t do it, then your choice is either cut back or raise power revenue rates. And, uh, raising any rate this day and age is not terribly popular (laughter).
I was wondering, so you, you represent the state of Colorado and their water interests, but it sounds a little bit like, um, the hydropower aspect of the water flow is perhaps the most important, uh, factor in policy making.
I wouldn’t say the most important, but it’s probably equally as important. Glen Canyon gives us the flexibility, because it’s such a large bucket, to make sure we can maintain the seventy-five million acre-feet past Lee Ferry in any given ten-year period. So, it’s very important in that aspect, and I’d say water rights probably just a little bit more important, but the power revenues are extremely important as well.
So, can you clarify–so in the Upper Basin states, there’s quite a number of them–New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah–um, can you clarify Colorado’s more specific interest in, in water and hydropower in this program as compared to the other states?
Okay. Colorado gets fifty-one and three-quarters percent of the depletions [water diversion rights] that have been allocated to the Upper Basin, so we have the, the lion’s share of that. And that’s probably the, well, it is the biggest reason that operations at Glen Canyon and the other reservoirs upstream are the most important. The other three states divvy up the remaining percentages. And, um, New Mexico really has all of their apportionment, consumptive use of apportionment, accounted for with their settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation. Utah has plans in place for really all of theirs, biggest outstanding one is the Lake Powell pipeline over to St. George. Um, Colorado has several lesser projects on the drawing boards. It remains to be seen how much CRSP power revenues they can actually use. And Wyoming is so sparsely populated that it’s got plenty of water.
Yeah. Can you explain how, um, operations of the dam, Glen Canyon Dam, affect water supply for the state of Colorado? Make that connection for me.
Okay. The operations at Glen Canyon and the ability to store sufficient water to maintain the seventy-five-year running average keeps us out of any kind of water right ministration for compact purposes. So, state water law can, um–proceed, really, uninterrupted by any compact issues as can water law in the other states. So, um–
So if too much water is released from Glen Canyon Dam or too little water is released from Glen Canyon Dam, it can affect Colorado’s obligations and its independence or autonomy in managing its water resources.
It’s, it’s really too little [water]. Too much is, is fine. It keeps the average up and you guys–
Keeps the Lower Basin happy (laughter).
But too little does pose, uh, problems. We’ve never had any kind of administration because of compact issue on the Colorado River in Colorado.
So far, have you ever had a shortage in the Upper Basin in delivering water to the Lower Basin? Have you ever not met that?
No. And the reason that that’s [sic] never happens is because long-range operating criteria require the release of 8.23 million acre-feet from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon every year. We don’t have any obligation, really, to release water, so the long-range operating criteria kind of imposed one. But, uh, the Upper Basin states say that that’s a self-imposed, uh, obligation on the part of, of the federal agencies. So as long as we’ve got 8.23 going out, that’s 82.3 million acre-feet and we have to keep seventy-five (unintelligible).
So you’ve got a nice little buffer, a little margin–
We’ve got a buffer there.
All right. Um, so back to changes that have occurred in the program over time or significant events that occurred that you think had an impact on the development of the program, any ideas on that?
Yes, plenty of ideas [P.H.: alright]. Um (picking up papers) I’m sorry–um, really, when we go into the program, all the documents that we as water providers say are unnecessary, we refer to those as the Law of the River. And that’s an extensive package covering the compacts and projects and so on. So, that sets the parameters with which Glen Canyon has to operate within. So then from that, what I consider the major documents when I look at this is, certainly, the Grand Canyon Protection Act, uh, the EIS that was prepared pursuant to that Protection Act in 1995, and the Record of Decision in ’96. Um, and out of that Record of Decision, the Secretary [of the Interior] put together the adaptive management FACA group–
FACA being Federal Agency–
Federal Advisory Committee Act (laughs). And–then from that, the group developed the charter, which was approved by the Secretary in 1997. So, following that, the (pause) adaptive management group took up the task of trying to figure out what exactly it needed to do. And so, the document that I gave you there, it’ll reflect the questions that the adaptive management group act asked. And the first few pages are the opinion of Scott Loveless, who was a Solicitor for the Department of Interior at the time. So that was kind of our, um, guidebook, as you will, as we went along. So then we got into the development of a strategic plan for the Adaptive Management Work Grief [Group]–Work Grief is probably an adequate, adequate description (laughter).
Work Group (laughs)–
Work Group (laughs). And–
When, this was in what, 1997, ’98?
Um–yeah, ’99. I’m–I’m to the point where I’m forgetting dates. Now I can remember sequences (laughs). But, uh, once we had a strategic plan, then I was asked to chair a group, which we called the In-Out Committee. And the idea with that was to go through and say, “Okay, these activities are within the scope of the program that’s identified in the Loveless paper and appropriate for funding from the, uh, power revenues through CRSP.” Those that are out, we’re not saying that you can’t do them, but we’re saying that they’re not appropriate for funding with power revenues. We would expect environmental interests, the National Park Service, whomever, to bring dollars to the table to, to do those particular things. So, and that was my task that went on for probably a year and a half (laughs), and we finally got–
You were in control of the purse springs–(more slowly) purse strings.
Well, not, not the purse strings as much, but I guided the committee that was–all over the board, if you will.
Ahh. Was this a large committee?
Um, it had at least a couple of representatives from each one of the [P.H.: uh-huh] groups that are identified as participants in the adaptive management program. But we got through that and did, I think, a pretty good job of moving everything forward along those lines. But obviously there were people that weren’t happy, they felt there wasn’t enough latitude. Others like myself who felt there was probably too much latitude. But we–
Would you say those decisions that your committee made about what was in and what was out in terms of funding, that those decisions are reflected in the minutes of those meetings? Or were there certain documents where that was quantified?
No, they are reflected in the minutes, and there was a specific report that I prepared and presented to the Adaptive Management Work Group on what was in and what was out, so–I got labeled “the In and Out Guy” (laughter).
And was that decision about, what’s in and what’s out, um, was that just a decision for that year and then you made a second set of in and out decisions the next year? Or did you set it up for, you know–
It was set–it was set up to go through longevity. [P.H.: Okay.] I guess I always knew we would be challenged and have to look at it over, and uh, I don’t think we really had to look at it very hard until the, um, LTEMP [Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan] came into place, and that probably was the single biggest game-changer as you went from the Loveless paper, the guidance in the ’95 EIS, and the things that we did up to, to that point in time. And then, if it weren’t for the lawsuit with the Center for Biodiversity [Center for Biological Diversity], I’m not sure how much we would’ve got into an LTEMP-type program, but we definitely wanted some type of program so that we didn’t have to do environmental compliance on every separate experiment that was done.
This Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, it was an endangered species lawsuit or something else?
No, it was in part an endangered species lawsuit. I think I’d really let the attorneys speak to that, quite honestly (laughs), because I–
About when was that particular lawsuit (unintelligible)?
And that was going to be in, like, 2003, four, somewhere in there.
So and it–kind of like I said, we got to the LTEMP and, I forget the dates right now, but in the sequence of events, whenever it got, the lawsuit was probably, uh, four or five years in advance of that.
And the LTEMP was kind of a result of the churn surrounding that lawsuit?
So, uh, after that, we have–one of the frustrating parts with the whole program is there was no set of defined goals, you know. Do you need so many acres of native vegetation? We didn’t have any set numbers for what constituted recovery of the endangered fish. We didn’t have any real, set values about how we were going to try to make releases to increase beaches. We knew we wanted to have a cold water fishery from the base of Glen Canyon dam down to the gauge at a Lees Ferry, and then have the native fishery below that, but we really didn’t have any–set goals to try to achieve. So, we never knew what our, our target was, exactly. And that was frustrating, because you were supposed to come up with a mix of, uh, targets for the various resources that dam operations could satisfy. And one of the things I always wanted to see was a comprehensive model for all the different resources fit together, so that we could say, “If you release this much from the reservoir and you wanted to keep the water temperature, through releases, at this amount, we could preserve so many endangered fish.” So–but that had to be traded off against what might happen to other resources. How much sandbar would you, would you save at the same time? Could you inundate enough of the vegetation, still and cause some of that to be drowned out? We, we didn’t know. And, uh, the scientists really wanted to do individual models and really resisted, in my opinion, the idea of trying to fit them all together and do comprehensive modeling. So, we’ve got a whole slew of individual models out there, but we still haven’t figured out how [P.H.: how they fit] to balance the results from one to the other. And that’s been a big frustration of mine and I’m not sure the science is pushing us in that direction right now. I think we have a lot of very good scientists who want to do scientific work in the Grand Canyon, and the longer they can, in my opinion, postpone reaching a result like that, the longer they can continue to do their research on whatever. So–I guess I want to, maybe, touch on the Desired Future Conditions that we tried to put together as a second attempt.
Pause in recording
Okay. What we’ve wanted in the Desired Future Conditions is something that goes beyond just the qualitative approach and gets down into some measure of how can you tell when the dam operations are actually accomplishing what the desired future condition is. But we can’t get to a quantitative value for that. Everything is qualitative. And, uh, I have heard people say, “I don’t know what the desired future condition is, but I’ll know it when I see it.” (Laughs.)
Can you give an example of that? Like, for example, with the humpback chub, are you [R.S.: Okay] suggesting that if we know, you know, how many chubs in each subpopulation we have when we get to a certain number, then we know we’ve accomplished our goal. Is that an example?
That would be an example of a, of a quantitative. And when it comes to endangered fish, we actually have those goals. And that’s been a, a nice thing. But that’s one of those things you can’t quite figure out how to do dam operations to help do that. You’re having to do other things like stock the fish, you have to remove non-natives. Removal of non-natives have proved to be an extremely controversial subject with the Indian tribes, who do not want to see any taking of life, if you will, in the process of this. So, that’s another, uh, complication that we’ve tried very hard to respect. How well we succeeded, I guess you’ll have to ask the tribes (laughs).
Is there another example of, um, something that you would like to see quantified that hasn’t occurred yet?
It would be nice if we could see how many beaches the Park Service and recreationists would like to see along the river so that river rafters can have kind of a comfy place to camp. And we haven’t really quantified that, at least to my knowledge. Maybe the Park Service has since I retired, but I’m not aware of any quantified number of beaches that they want. I’m not aware of any quantification of the number of acres of native vegetation they would like to have in place. Is–there are certainly people in the Parks Service who would like to see tamarisk exterminated from the park and replaced with native vegetation, but I don’t know that that’s a realistic probability either. And I think the, um, the water users would resist some of that if it was all going to have to come out of CRSP power revenues. Mainly because tamarisk existed in the Canyon long before Glen Canyon was ever built. Uh, it was certainly spreading. You can have an argument over how much operations of the dam may have increased the spread or potentially reduced the rate of spread. If they could drown out enough of the, of the tamarisk, we don’t know. But it would be nice to have some kind of a goal in there that you’re shooting for.
Can you clarify, um, the reasons why these quantitative goals would be good to have? Is it just so that we know when we’re accomplishing things, or will it have some implied effect on decisions regarding what gets funded and where money gets spent?
I think the quantitative numbers would be helpful to decide whether or not you are reaching your goals. Have you found an operation of the dam that is providing the best possible mix of the different resources that can be maintained through dam operations? That’s really what you, what you’d like to see out of that. (Long pause.) I forget what the second part of your question was.
Well, I’m just wondering if it’s just nice to have these quantitative goals so you know when you’ve met them, or if there would also be the sense that once we’ve met Goal A, then we can start focusing more on Goal B because we met Goal A. Would that be one of the benefits of having quantified–?
That could be a benefit. Um, but if you had specific values that were, you were trying to obtain, then that would give you a better idea of whether you were getting the right mix. So, you know, this is the best possible condition we would like to see for native vegetation and this is the best possible condition we’d like to see. Okay. Since you know you’re not going to be able to get the best for everything, where can you get what’s best for most things?
Yeah, there are trade-offs.
So to, to recognize that– I guess from my personal expective–perspective, I think if we’ve, once we figured out a dam operation like that, um, I would argue that the adaptive management program per se could be, uh, considered complete, in a satisfactory manner. But now, you certainly will have a lot of people that want to continue to do research. That’s fine. If they want to figure out how to fund it on their nickel, that’s fine, but, uh–.
What would you like to see done with those revenues that would have gone to research, but would be available for–would they go back to the Treasury? Or would you like to see them spent on other–
Well, th– that’s a fair question. A lot of it, if–if it was a really big number, could go back to the Treasury. But if it goes back to that, it goes back in a way that’s reflecting repayment on some of the Colorado River Storage participating projects that need to be repaid.
Are there projects in Colorado that still have not been repaid?
Animas-La Plata would be the best example of that.
Because that’s a more recent one.
That’s a more recent one and, you know, you’re still trying to allocate the dollars to different purposes right now.
The, uh, that [Upper] Colorado River Basin Fund that comes out of hydropower revenues from Glen Canyon Dam in particular, um, that’s a kind of a–a pie that’s not expanding, and you have to prioritize how to spend it? Is that how you see it?
You, you have to prioritize how you spend it, or you have to increase the power rates to get the pipe big enough that it can meet its obligations, and, um, that power that comes out of CRSP goes to a very large area. Most all the, uh, power in Colorado, through, uh (long pause). I can’t think of the– Well, anyway, it’s, um–through projects that are generally rural electric associations, are what I’m trying to think of. [P.H.: uh-huh.] And so we’ve got all of those throughout Colorado, a bunch of them, as well as the other up–upper division states.
Yeah. New Mexico has a lot of rural electric co-ops [talking simultaneously], Arizona has some–
New Mexico has a bunch. Right.
And, they benefit from some of these CRSP revenues?
Well, yeah, they benefit in effect by, it–where it keeps the power rates at. So, if the, if the revenues become diminished, unnecessarily, or the projects become diminished, then the revenues have to increase some way or another to offset what’s happening. And you know, another part of the Grand Canyon Protection Act was that the impacts to power are supposed to be minimized. And so, when you’re looking at the balance of resources, you have to look at what’s the impact to your hydropower power revenues.
Can you talk about that a little bit more? You’ve suggested that once or twice in the interview, that um–the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, uh, has an impact on, um, how much of those hydropower revenues are available for a variety of purposes. Can you talk about the Colorado’s perspective on, you know, the impacts of the adaptive management program on revenues that would be going to Colorado and supporting Colorado projects and Colorado interests?
You mean the revenues, if they’re reduced at–if the revenues are reduced by how much you spend through the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program, then those revenues come back to fulfill other obligations of CRSP power, and you probably don’t have to increase your power rates.
Uh-huh. So it’s possible that power rates in Colorado may have gone up or could go up, as a result of spending a significant amount of the CRSP revenues on adaptive management?
Right. Right. And I think you can talk to folks at the Western Area Power Administration and they can give you an idea of how the rates have increased through their rate studies.
We’re trying to schedule an interview with Leslie James and that will be a question that I’ll try to ask. Yeah.
She would be the right person to answer that.
Okay. Any–we’ve talked a bit about some significant events that occurred, you’ve mentioned a few key reports and documents. How about individuals that you think have had a really significant impact on the program?
As I’ve thought through that, I thought really, it hasn’t been any particular individual as much as it’s been a particular group. The individuals in terms of leadership have changed over the years, and sometimes it seems like one particular person might have had more of an impact than another, but really if they didn’t have the support of the organization as a whole behind them, they wouldn’t have been as successful as they were. So.
Any representatives of organizations having the support of their–?
They–absolutely. They have to have the support of the folks behind them. That’s why I didn’t really identify any particular individual, because I’ve always looked at it more as the tribal interests and the recreational interests and the environmental interests, state interests, power interests.
You think of it as the stakeholders rather than the individuals who are representing the stakeholders?
I guess that’s the right way to put it.
Which stakeholders, in your mind, have been particularly influential, and in what way have they been influential?
To tell you, Paul, I hadn’t contemplated that very much, because I just decided if I did I could write a long list, and I don’t know if I would say any one of them has been more influential at the other over time, maybe on a given month or in a given year perhaps. But–they’ve, they’ve all had their ups and downs, so to speak. So I–I just left it to the, to the groups.
Well, let me ask you a related question and a peripheral question about, um, so it seems to me that, um, there are little coalitions of interest groups of stakeholders. Sometimes, you know, the National Park Service will be interested in working with the recreational groups that are concerned about rafting down the Colorado River and about beaches, and fishing interests are, you know, allied with other stakeholders, and, um, can you say–you’re a representative of a state–did all the state representatives create a little coalition and find common ground or were they at odds with each other?
No, they were on common ground. And if there were differences, it was a between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin, but I wouldn’t call them big differences. So (unintelligible) and I think the water users had a reasonably good coalition with the power users. I would say that the Indian tribes that participated in the program, they were really rather passive, that they took most of their interests to the Bureau of Reclamation through the programmatic agreement process. And it was just really hard to get them to participate. The environmental interests had a very strong coalition with the National Park Service. And in fact, that it bothered me personally because of the Park Service’s ability to influence what happened in Interior through the various administrations all the way up to this point in time. So–
Are you saying that the National Park Service was, I mean there’s quite a few Interior agencies, you’re saying that the National Park Service was the most influential on Department of Interior policy?
I would say, because of the administration, they were clearly the most influential. They got–
More so than Bureau of Reclamation or US Fish and Wildlife Service?
And can you point to any particular instances in which you think they exercised that influence in–?
Well, I guess the biggest one that comes to my mind right now is the amount of work on socioeconomics that they wanted to have done. And they wanted to see surveys taken of folks across the nation, if you will, of the socioeconomic impacts of the operations at Glen Canyon. I don’t know that anybody in New York City can tell you whether or not there was a socioeconomic impact, unless he couldn’t get a raft trip (laughter). But, uh, no, I just thought that that was excessive by a long shot. I didn’t think it needed to be done. But the Park Service representative pushed on that pretty hard. And in fact, that’s perhaps part of the reason that Interior agencies were, um, their vote in the adaptive management program was taken away, and they were just made ex officio.
That was under Anne Castle as the Secretary’s designee, right? When she had–
I think that’s, that’s right. Because they could see the level of influence that they were exerting behind the scenes and it’s like the advisory committee voice, perhaps, wasn’t being heard to the extent that it was hoped the Secretary would hear.
Can you talk a little more about the common interests that the state water representatives and the hydropower representatives share? Where were you on common ground and what did you push more?
I think the course the water users pushed to make sure that the water interests were protected, that the program operated within the limitations that the compacts–dictated, uh, the power users, because they had a mandate to generate the maximum amount of power possible. We were on common ground there because we wanted to see operations that would do that and still meet our water obligation, or satisfy it. So, that was common ground there. Plus, as we’ve talked about, the power revenues were important.
I’m, um, thinking it would be nice to shift to the questions about what you think you were able to accomplish in your time on the program. Looking back.
Okay. I think my biggest accomplishment for the program was getting the In and Out report done, that was a huge, huge item at that point in time. And the fact that I was able to leave that I think was, lead that, was my biggest accomplishment. Then I think the other thing that I felt really good about, which isn’t so much an accomplishment, but I think I was probably one of the more vocal people about maintaining, being sure that what we were trying to do through the adaptive management program fit within the limitations of the Law of the River.
So, those are two really important points. In what ways do you think that some of the proposals for adaptive management and alteration of the operation of the dam, uh, in what specific ways where some of those proposals potentially harmful to the Law of the River?
Well, I think that potentially if they had not been forced to stay within those limitations, if they were able to manipulate those limitations, then that would–certainly impact the state’s ability to operate the reservoirs to, not only their benefit, but particularly as we get into the drought situations that we have at present.
Do you want to talk a little bit about this twenty-year drought we’re in and the drought contingency plan that was just recently agreed to (laughter), what role that’s playing in this whole program?
This is all coming after I retired (laughter), so I’ve been looking at it from the outside looking in. But I think that the biggest things that I see coming from drought contingency plans is you’re now operating the reservoirs in a manner that you can, at least in the Upper Basin, you can protect your power operations and still meet your, or still make sure that the obligations under the Compact are satisfied. In the Lower Basin, I think since the 2007 Guidelines [Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operation for Lake Powell and Lake Mead] were implemented, they didn’t pay much attention, really, to the power intakes at Hoover Dam. They automatically went and said, “Well, if we need the water, we need the water. Power here is secondary, period. And you can figure it out where you make up the lost power from wherever.” I think in these drought contingency plans, it’s become, um, clear that you need to maintain not only the intakes, for example, at Lake Mead for the southern valley, Southern Nevada Water Authority, but also the intakes for the Hoover power operations. And I think that’s a big thing. And, by putting those together, I think folks in Arizona in particular have had to make some very tough choices.
Yeah. Having lower priority to Colorado river water has made Arizona, um [R.S.: yes], well, they’re, they’re taking a very big hit at the first shortage declaration, which is imminent.
Yes. I–I agree. And the thing that was, this was an interesting thing that occurred while I was working on this, is when we started all of the issues, we’re trying to get California to live within their compact entitlement.
Mm-hmm, because they were taking more water than they were entitled to.
They were taking more water than they were entitled to. And that was a huge effort to get that accomplished. Now that that’s done, Arizona, you’re next up (laughter).
Do you have any concern about the future of the program and the future of hydropower revenue, uh, if this current drought is the new normal? Do you think about that much?
Um, I guess I think about it, but nowhere near as much as I used to (laughter). But, no, if this drought or global warming, whichever you want to consider it, continues, there will be big-picture compact issues that are going to have to be addressed. One thing that I think the Upper Basin has realized is even though we were allowed seven and a half million acre-feet of consumptive use because the Lower–the Upper Basin was given a lower priority than the Lower Basin, um, we realized that we were only going to get, uh, six million acre-feet if we’re lucky. And depending upon the extent of the drought, maybe it won’t be that much, in order that we can maintain the running average at least fairly.
Well, it’s ironic that we’ve spent more than half a century trying to protect the Law of the River and, in the form of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and now we’re in a situation where we may have to kind of rethink and rewrite that particular fundamental Law of the River.
I don’t think that you’re going to rewrite that. And I say that because each one of the states has developed their water rights according to the state water rights system. And if you start rewriting much of that, you’re going to throw chaos into all the–the administration of water rights in all the states. And so, I continue to believe that we’ll scratch our heads and figure out what we can do in the way of conservation measures, uh, to keep from having to rewrite those. Because I don’t think you could honestly get it done today.
Uh-huh, right. Well, the drought contingency plan itself is a version of doing that without doing it.
Without doing it. [P.H.: Right. (laughs).] We’ve been–the 2007 Guidelines were a good example of doing it without doing it (laughter).
Yeah, that seems to be the way to go.
But it got, you know, the thing that–all we had prior to 2007 Guidelines was a quantitative-qualitative direction in the long-term operating criteria or the LROC [Long-Range Operating Criteria], as we liked to refer to it as, and with the 2007 Guidelines, we actually put some quantities into that qualitative guidance. And so that’s been very good, we’ll be revisiting the 2007 operating criteria, well, probably starting in 2020. And, uh, we’ll see how we have to tweak them then. But, I think I could pretty much assure you, I guess I can say that because I have no ability to assure you (laughter)–
The future is uncertain.
The future is uncertain. But I think the drought contingency plan will certainly get incorporated into that and, uh, you’ll figure out how to tighten some of your operations even a little bit more.
So back to the idea of accomplishments, is, was there anything that you wanted to accomplish that you were unable to?
The biggest thing that I really wanted to accomplish was the development of a comprehensive plan for the resources. I thought if you could really do that, even if you could just get a good start on it, you would have something to look at your dam operations and say, “Yeah, are we getting close here? Can we start to get that?” But the way we are now is, uh, we are researching each of these resources very deeply, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But so far, I haven’t seen any of that really come to a place where you could say, “This is the way we could change the dam operation to benefit sediment retention in the Canyon, or to maintain the habitat for endangered fish in the most desirable manner.” We just don’t seem to quite get there.
Is there an example of that kind of comprehensive planning and management that you are familiar with that made you think, “Ahh, we need this for the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program?”
No, and I really, I think the reason that I wanted to see that would just simply because the direction was to come up with the best mix of resources possible, and, whether or not anybody else was doing it, and I’m sure there probably is. I don’t, I certainly didn’t spend much time looking at that. I said the Canyon is so unique unto itself that it’s hard to take anything that’s being done any place else and say this is the way it has to be done.
Can you, um, you probably said this already, but maybe in a quick summary statement, can you explain why you think that couldn’t be done? This sort of comprehensive approach was–you were unable to get that implemented. Why?
My opinion is that the researchers continued to say that there were so many uncertainties that they didn’t know where to start. And I think if they would’ve just started to do something, they could have said, “Yeah, we need to know a little bit more about this,” or we truly need to know a little bit more about this, rather than what they’re doing now, in my opinion, is just taking a comprehensive inventory of what exists in the Canyon. I don’t think they’ve really done much in the way of putting cause and effect on anything that you’re doing. But I can guarantee you we know a whole lot of stuff about the existence, about the current conditions in the Canyon. They’ve–I won’t fault them for the job they’ve done there, but I don’t think they’ve taken their job and put any hypotheses [unintelligible] if we did this, what would happen to that particular resource? That, that’s where I think it’s–it’s short, and if they could make the jump from that, that would be a good thing. And I think right now with respect to the LTEMP, the experiments that they’re proposing for sediment retention, I think now you’re probably getting somewhere where you can say, “If I do this with my releases, this is the best I can do for sediment and retention in the Canyon.” I like what’s happening there, but it needs to happen with the rest of the resources too.
Some of our interviewees have told us that, um, they–they experienced some surprises when they got on the program and got involved deeply in the issues. A few things cropped up that they weren’t expecting. Did you have any surprises, any unexpected events that–?
The one that, if I look back, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise, but it was at the time, and that was taking management of the adaptive management program away from the Bureau of Reclamation and giving it to the Geological Survey. I think that was huge, and it felt like they gave the researchers a whole lot more, uh, ability, if you will, to kind of research what they wanted or they thought was important at that time. I think our efforts to put together a science advisory committee to help try to focus the USGS now on the research that they were doing. I don’t think we were as successful as we had hoped. We wanted them to kind of push for cause and effect and ways to change the operations of the dam and, again, I think most of what they did was critique the science was that was being done, and they weren’t forcing a hypothesis on some of the critical questions.
Do you remember about when that science advisory committee was created? Were you involved when they came up with adding that?
Yes, and I can’t tell you the year, but it was about a year or two after (pause) management of science in the program was moved, removed from Reclamation to–
Well, to the GS, yeah, (speaking simultaneously) GCMRC [P.H.: US Geological Survey]. So I was, uh, that didn’t quite work out the way at least I was hoping, I don’t think the way a lot of the state water people were or power people were hoping would work out.
Uh, so, uh–long-term value of the program? It’s been running for some thirty years and a lot of money and a lot of water under the bridge, so to speak. A lot of money under the bridge. Do you think it’s had a long-term value and she continued?
I think the program has had a long-term value. We’ve got to a place where I think we can see recovery of the endangered fish–could be at the end of the road. I think we’ve got a program how to improve them to make sure that once they’re improved they can be there. My hope would be that at some point, in the hopefully not real distant future, that you could look at the program and say, “You accomplished what you were charged to do in the Grand Canyon Protection Act, and therefore GCMRC, if you want to continue to study things to death, if they will find funding and appropriations from within your own budget, and we will quit funding as much as we do out of power revenues.” But I think power revenues are always going to have to be used to maintain a high-quality monitoring system on what’s happening to the resources, and I think that’s a perfectly legitimate thing. So, I would like to see a lot of the science activities, I guess, start to cut back, and really get to a place where they can say, “We’ve studied everything, and we think this is the best operation that we can do within the limits that you have.”
In our discussion about scientific research. You’ve identified, um, some research that’s focused on simply inventorying the resources, some research that’s focused on monitoring change over time in those resources, and some research focused on cause and effect. Why are the humpback chub, you know, populations suppressed? And those are difficult questions to answer. Of those three, would you say that one of them is getting too much money and another one’s not getting enough money or, how–how have the resources been spread on those three categories?
I would like to see, perhaps, a little more money spent on comprehensive modeling, or not modeling, but monitoring, of the resources. The thing that happened a few years back when the, um, consumer price index didn’t increase as much as they had been hoping for and they had to make some budget cuts, if you will, what they did is GCMRC made cuts across the board, and in the long run I think they took more away from monitoring by default, um, than they did from research. And I really think the one thing that GCMRC has not done enough of is maintain the high-quality monitoring systems. I think they’ve cut it back to where they do enough monitoring, in their minds, to see what’s happening in general, but I don’t think they can tell you what’s happening in detail. And so, I guess I would like to see a little more go back into the monitoring and a little less into–
Well, into projects that don’t really fit or have much meaning. There was one in the last budget that I saw that involved the study of the activities of birds downstream of the dam, which to me just seemed to be, um, totally useless when it comes to trying to figure out what you could do for dam operations and even just for coming up with the condition of those particular birds. I wish I could remember more about what that was. I’m sorry. But–
Was this the southwestern willow flycatcher?
No, it’s not an endangered species or anything like that, just birds in general. [P.H.: uh-huh.] And, uh, that to me just seemed, it seemed like a waste of money, if you will. And I think part of the reason that it was done is there was a very good researcher that was at GCMRC, and they wanted to make sure he stayed employed. (Laughs.)
Probably not a politically acceptable answer.
Well, you didn’t name any names. Somebody is going to have to guess, go back and look at this (laughter). So, you mentioned that you retired. You’re still the Colorado rep? Or just a consultant?
No, I’d look at myself as a consultant. I’m a designated alternate on the TWG committee, but for the most part, what that means to me is, before a TWG representative goes off, we discuss some of the issues there and I’ll give them a little bit of history and what positions we might have taken, and it remains up to them what they want to do at that point.
Well that’s exactly why I brought that up. My next question is, what advice would you give to newly incoming members of AMWG or TWG?
Okay. And I thought about that one.
Mmm, good. One of the products that we’re producing for this administrative history will be an orientation packet for new members of the adaptive management program. So your advice will be very useful.
Okay. As I thought about this, I think new members should become really aware of the history of the AMP.
So funding this program is a good idea, from your perspective (laughs).
Funding this program is a good idea (laughing), because there’s been so many changes that have occurred over the year, years that, and–people really need to kind of understand them. So, in my mind they need to understand what the impact of the Scott Loveless paper was on the ’95 EIS and how that directed things up until we got to the LTEMP. And once you get to the LTEMP, really the lawsuit, I guess, with Biodiversity, that was kind of the change in time. Things had to be done a little bit different at that point as a result of the lawsuit, and– that was probably a good, good thing. But you need to know that history. The next thing is, I think it’s really important to understand the laws, and the Law of the River, that constrain the operation of the program. You really have to–understand that to decide how you are really going to be able to (pause) interact. You really need to get to know people to really understand the interests that they represent. Why they do it in such a manner. Unless you do that, it’s just extremely difficult to try to see any kind of common ground. So, um, the other thing is, is as you go through this, try to (sound of papers and pen shuffling) be conscious of the things and positions that you take that maybe put somebody else in a position where they have, just have to say, “No, I can’t do that.” Then you’ve set up the conflict and once you have that conflict, you lose a lot of the relationships that you’ve worked hard to develop.
Mm-hmm. And maintaining good relationships is key to the success of the adaptive management program, you’re saying?
Absolutely. Key to everything you do on the Colorado River. Sometimes I’ve said, “You can go to a meeting and not get much accomplished, but you can go to dinner and have a beer and you can solve the problem.” (Laughter.)
Yeah, That–I’ve been thinking how the adaptive management program is kind of, there’s two sides to that coin, and one side is recommending adaptations to the operation of the dam. The other side is putting into place collaborative stakeholder governance. And that’s kind of what you’re talking about now. That the, one of the things that’s been successful in the program and that ensures success of the overall program is cooperative relationships among these stakeholders, yes?
Yep. It has to be, and those relationships have certainly been strained at times, but at least you have it, and you– (coughs) excuse me–have the conversation that got you to a point in time where you could actually accomplish something.
Can you say anything more about how new members of the program should approach their task to ensure that those relationships are maintained?
Well, I can, I guess, tell you kind of what I did with the new person that came in. I just kind of took her to the side, and we had detailed conversations for quite a while over how the program and everything worked. I went with her to a number of TWG meetings–
Who is this person?
This is Carlee Brown.
Carlee Brown. And she’s representing Colorado now?
She’s not. She’s left the state and gone back to Washington. So, I expect that I will probably–
Have to mentor somebody–
Have to mentor somebody else, which is fine (laughs). It’s kept me employed (laughter). But no, I have thoroughly enjoyed that, and just conveying the history to them and then, you know, getting them to the point where they have to fly on their own, which they, Carlee did very, very well.
Well, I’m very interested in this idea of–figuring out a strategy for maintaining the productive relationships that make collaborative governance work. In a sense, stakeholders sometimes think their purpose is to advocate for their interest or their organization. And, um, if that’s what you think your primary, um, goal or your primary obligation is, then you don’t necessarily care whether you piss somebody else off on the other side of the table who has a different interest. But it seems to me what you’re saying, and what almost everybody else that we’ve interviewed is saying, is that that’s not a good strategy. You’re supposed to represent your interests [R.S.: yep]. You’re expected to do that. But once you get on this adaptive management program, you realize that in order to be effective in doing that, you also have to be respectful, build trust, listen, compromise, to make the collaboration work. Is that what you’re saying?
Yep. I would say that’s true. In addition, at least from the state level and for a lot of the federal people too, we talk in Glen Canyon adaptive management, we talk during the development of the Colorado River annual operating plan. We talk about issues surrounding endangered fish, so we meet each other coming and going in a number of additional arenas. And, through that, you develop an understanding of what they have to protect. They can’t let this certain thing go. But you can also start to realize where there’s room to compromise.
So everybody eventually gets clear about what their bottom line is. I can’t compromise beyond this, this is an interest that has to be protected. But beyond that, there’s room for negotiation and compromise.
There’s, there’s room for negotiation and compromise. And, like every situation where you’re in compromise, you want to try to compromise in a manner that helps them do what they want to do without compromising too much of what you’re responsible for.
So you’ve been involved for a couple of decades. Were there instances in which, I mean, were there periods of time in which there were a number of stakeholder representatives that didn’t share that ethic, and that sort of were throwing bombs and making it difficult for people to come to a consensus?
Yeah, I–I think there, there were. And I think, maybe I’m being a little tough on the environmental side here, but they came with an agenda of things that they wanted to see accomplished, but without any real understanding of what the interests and obligations and positions were, of the rest of the people there. So, you know, they started out being very vocal and uncompromising until they really began to realize that that was going to get them absolutely nowhere.
So it wasn’t that the representatives of those groups changed and somebody more, you know, um, compromising came in. It’s that that they learned in order to be an effective advocate for those interests, they had to meet you halfway.
They need to meet you at least halfway. And if they didn’t, and they could see that wasn’t going to happen, they turned the reins over to the next person in line.
I don’t know if you have anything to say about this or not, but there’s kind of a tension, isn’t there, between being an effective advocate to achieve a goal and being a good team player. And (pause) I wonder if you can just reflect a little bit about whether the success of the adaptive management program is, in part, based on the fact that those who have been involved have been just as much focused on being a team player as they are focused on representing, you know, an interest group or achieving a specific goal.
I don’t know that I would call them necessarily a team player, but I would say they’re certainly willing to come into the discussion, knowing what they’re, what they have to protect for the people that they represent, but also realizing that, given the direction in the Grand Canyon Protection Act, we’re going to have to find something that made sense for everybody. So, I don’t if it’s a team player, maybe it’s more a great compromiser.
Right (laughter). I think it’s interesting that you’ve pointed out for us, and this is an insight for me, you’ve pointed out how the Law of the River and the Grand Canyon Protection Act are sort of the, you know, they’re the, they’re the walls of the building. They’re the boundaries within which you have to work [R.S.: that’s right], and you can’t go outside those boundaries.
People who want to protect the environment can only go as far as the Grand Canyon Protection Act mandates, and you’ve got to maintain the Law of the River while you try to adjust how we manage the river.
Well, you try to do that. And the thing that was good is, in the Grand Canyon Protection Act, you have a paragraph in there that basically says, whatever you do through the Grand Canyon Protection Act has to fit within the Law of the River.
It can’t be contrary to the–
It can’t be contrary, it has to fit. And so that’s kind of what I felt like I was able to help do, is to talk to people and say, “Well, this could fit. This definitely won’t fit. We have to talk about that a little bit further.”
Do you think there are any legal frameworks that are lacking that we need right now? Because the law evolves, new laws get passed and–
Law evolves and, I think if you put another legal framework in you would only further complicate the issue (laughter).
Let’s keep it the way it is, huh?
Keep it the way it is.
All right. Well, we’re just about at the end of the interview. Is there anybody else that you would recommend that we talk to?
I was going to ask you, how many state representatives have you talked to at this point?
You’re our first one.
I’m the first one. Okay. I would certainly recommend that you talk to more state representatives, and I would suggest that you could start with Don Ostler.
He’s been recommended to us a couple of times and he’s on my, you know [R.S.: Okay], options list, Don Ostler [R.S.: Okay]. O-s-t-l-e-r, right?
And which state did he represent?
Well, he represented the Upper Colorado River Commission. [P.H.: Okay]. So, in essence, he understood what all four of the Upper Basin states wanted, and he carried that message.
Do you know about what years he was involved? Or what decades?
Well, he retired just about a year and a half ago. And he’d been with the commission at least a dozen years, probably more.
Do you know where he lives now?
He lives in Salt Lake City.
Okay. We have another interview we need to do in Salt Lake City, so we could do both at the same time.
You could do both. In Salt Lake City, you could contact Amy Haas at the Upper Colorado River Commission who took over Don’s–
H-a-a-s, Amy Haas?
Yeah, who took over Don’s responsibilities at the Commission, and she worked for the state of New Mexico prior to that. So she would be another one that would be good to talk with, but I don’t know how–she doesn’t go back as far in the program, maybe halfway back.
Don would be better if we could get him [R.S.: Don–], but she might help us find him–
Oh yeah, she can definitely help you find Don, because I think she put him under contract (laughter).
So that would be one. From the state of Wyoming, I would recommend talking to John Shields, who is now working for the Bureau of Reclamation down in Boulder City. But he’s easy enough to track down.
Yeah. Boulder City’s near enough by, where we are.
And he represented Wyoming?
And he represented Wyoming on the Technical Work Group.
Is he with WAPA, or–
He’s with the Bureau of Reclamation.
Bureau of Reclamation. But he’s not currently involved in the adaptive management program.
No. He was, he was for a number of years. [P.H.: Okay] And Pat Tyrrell, who’s the State Engineer of Wyoming and the AMWG member. Um–
How do you spell Pat Tyrrell’s last name?
T-y-r-r-e-l-l, I think–
Male or female?
And he’s the current State Engineer, but he’s been, the Adaptive Management Work Group member for Wyoming for a number of years. For Utah, best person would be Robert King.
Spell the last name.
K-i-n-g. And he’s done that for a long time, he’s trained a couple of different directors, if you will, who represent Utah on the AMWG. But Robert’s always been their Technical Work Group person, and, uh, he may be in failing health right now. I don’t, I don’t know.
Do you know where he lives?
And he lives in Salt Lake City as well.
In terms of, from New Mexico, Estevan Lopez was with New Mexico before he went back to, became a commissioner of Reclamation.
Estevan with a b or a v?
And he would probably be in Albuquerque? Or somewhere else?
He may have re–probably returned to Albuquerque. I’m sure he’s not in DC anymore. Um–but he had some very good perspectives. And I think Paul Harms from New Mexico has kind of taken over for him. And he’s a member of the–I don’t remember whether he’s an AMWG member or just a TWG member right now, but he’s been with the program a fair amount of time.
Um–so that’s kind of the folks in the Upper Basin. I think a good person to visit with would be Chris Harris (coughs), who now lives over in–in California, in the Los Angeles area, he’s Director of the California Board of Water Resources. And he also worked for the state of Arizona for a number of years on this program. So, you can kind of get two perspectives at one time.
California and Arizona? Well, that’s a tough perspective to bridge, isn’t it?
That’s a tough perspective (laughter). But he’s a big guy, he can handle it.
Chris Harris, that’s a C-h-r-i-s Chris.
Okay. Wow, that was a lot of good recommendations. Thank you.
You can do that. I don’t know if you could still–over in Salt Lake, there was a guy by name of Wayne Cook, who worked for the Bureau of Reclamation for many years. He was particularly involved in all the high water down at Glen Canyon in ’82 and ’83 [1983 and 1984], coming up with the plywood boards on the top of the–
We interviewed Cliff Barrett, and he told us that stuff.
I think he was the regional representative at the time.
He was Regional Director at the time. Yeah.
Great story. I’m getting ready to read The Emerald Mile, which will be an interesting downstream version of that story.
That is, that is a good (unintelligible). I’ve read that. That is a good book.
Well, do you have any closing thoughts, any conclusions, recommendations that we haven’t touched on?
We’ve, I think, touched on a lot of things. I hope I don’t leave you with the impression that power might be more important than water. Water will continue to drive. Power will be secondary, but (lowers voice) not by much (laughs).
Well, without water, we don’t have power.
You don’t have power (laughter). This is so true.
And down in southern Arizona where I’m from, without power you don’t have water.
That’s it (laughs).
I really think, and a lot of my colleagues at Arizona State University think that we need to spend a lot more time thinking about the water-energy nexus. We too often think about, create policy for, and manage them separately.
And they’re really intimately interlinked.
Very much. Very much so. So, I get down to your–I suppose you can cut this at this point.
Okay. We’ll, we’ll end the interview now. Thank you again so much, Randy. It was a real pleasure.
Okay. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. You’ve made me recount a lot of history that I wasn’t sure I would necessarily remember.
Well, we’ll share this with you when we’re done with the product.
I will look forward to that.
End of interview
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- Arvada, Colorado
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.
D. Randolph "Randy" Seaholm began his work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in 1977, and started working on Colorado River water issues in 1990. Seaholm started his association with the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) in 2000. He was the designated Technical Work Group (TWG) representative for the State of Colorado, and an Adaptive Management Work Group (AMWG) alternate. He retired as CWCB Chief of Water Supply Protection in 2009. Although he stepped down from official AMWG duties upon his professional retirement, Seaholm still consults for the State of Colorado on issues related to GCDAMP and is a TWG alternate. He holds a BS in Hydrology and Watershed Science from Colorado State University.
Suggested Bibliographic Citation
Seaholm, D. Randolph. ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW. Transcript of recorded Interview conducted by Paul Hirt, Arizona State University, and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC, on 27 April 2019, at Arvada, Colorado. Edited by Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney.