Environmentalists urge conservation instead, but some officials weigh idea

March 03, MSNBC

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Western states’ era of massive dam construction — which tamed rivers, swallowed towns, and created irrigated agriculture, cheap hydropower and environmental problems — effectively ended in 1966 with the completion of Glen Canyon Dam.

But the region’s booming population and growing fears about climate change have governments once again studying construction of dams to capture more winter rain and spring snowmelt for use in dry summer months.

“The West and the Northwest are increasing in population growth like never before,” said John Redding, regional spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Boise. “How do you quench the thirst of the hungry masses?”

The population of the Western states grew nearly 20 percent in the 1990s, to more than 64 million, and continues to swell even as climate change poses new threats to the water supply.

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photo: The Grand Coulee Dam, about 70 miles west of Spokane, Wash., was one of the huge dams built by the federal government during the dam-building binge from the 1920s to the 1960s (Nick Geranios / AP file)