The Flaming Gorge Dam Power Lines: Good for Utah, or a Needless Tax Burden?

By Martin Kuprianowicz

In 1956, Congress authorized the Colorado River Storage Project, which called for the construction of four large dams: Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in northeastern Utah, Curecanti Dam on the Gunnison River in western Colorado, and the Navajo Dam on the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. The plan, approved by Congress, provided a financing system which would return to the taxpayers the full cost of these dams and participating projects over an 86-year period.

The project was designed to promote irrigation and water control, but most importantly it was to provide electricity. For most of the revenue to “pay out,” the cost would come from the sale of the electric energy produced by these dams to publically-owned, consumer-owned, and privately-owned utilities. However, the public was not entirely in favor of this latest federal construction project, and a letter to the editor in the May 16, 1961, issue of The Daily Utah Chronicle labeled it as “a tremendous sum of money” which could be easily saved if only private companies were allowed to build the powerlines, and not the federal government itself.

The main purpose of this project was to provide more people with electricity. An article in the February 23, 1961, edition of The Murray Eagle headlined “Power Officials Addresses Murray Rotarians Monday” said that the development of electricity paved the way for creation and use of the thousands of devices and appliances in Utah. These powerlines, as argued by the federal power official, were a step forward for Americans and modern-day humans.

In March 1961, The Salt Lake Times reported that Rep. David S. King called upon Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall to give congress revised budget requests, claiming that the current budget requests were not “appropriate to the plan of an all-federal transmission system,” originally endorsed by the Eisenhower Administration. At this time, the powerlines from Flaming Gorge to Vernal, Utah and the powerlines from Vernal to Colorado were already under construction, but were projected to exceed the originally proposed budget.

In June 1961, the front page of The Lehi Free Press described Lehi Mayor Harold D. Westering’s effort to gain more funds for the Flaming Gorge powerlines project, as the city council at the time was arguing that the originally proposed budget plan was not realistic to the actual costs of the project. The mayor met with congressmen in Washington DC such as Senator Moss and Congressman King, in an attempt to gain more funds for the construction of the powerlines from Flaming Gorge. The congressmen sent letters back to the mayor and other Utah officials explaining the advantage of Utah having these federal powerlines.

By September 1961, a compromise was reached on the budget plan for the construction plan of the federal powerlines, according to the front page of the September 25, 1961, issue of The Provo Daily Herald. A report ordered by interior secretary Stewart L. Udall and the Bureau of Reclamation called to “exhaust every possible effort” to work in cooperation with private utilities and to report back on the federal projects progress by February 15, 1962.

Construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam was successfully completed on August 17, 1964. Without the building of these federal powerlines, Utah may not have developed as swiftly as it has. The Salt Lake Valley is one of the most developed and modernized regions in Utah, and this is greatly due to the consistent and powerful flow of electricity to the region. Now, we are seeing a major transformation in the Salt Lake Valley as major technology companies are relocating to Utah and building headquarters here. Had the construction of the federal powerlines from the Flaming Gorge dam been postponed or never happened, the Salt Lake Valley may not be the technological, industrial, and cultural hub that it is today. It may have been playing “catch up” with surrounding states with more prevalent access to vast quantities of electrical power, and look very different today.

Martin Kuprianowicz is a senior at the University of Utah. He is majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in Spanish.

Primary Sources

“Contract Awarded for Generators at Flaming Gorge,” Provo Sunday Herald, January 22, 1961, 2.

“Power Official Addresses Murray Rotarians Monday,” Murray Eagle, February 23, 1961, 9.

“King Requests Udall Revise Budget for Transmission Systems,” Salt Lake Times, March 17, 1961, 3.

Johnson, T. S., Letter to The Editor: “Proper Power?” Utah Daily Chronicle, May 16, 1961, 2.

“Council Hears Mayor on Washington Trip; Takes Action on Lehi Freeway,” Lehi Free Press, June 15, 1961, 1.

Dominy, F. E., “Bureau of Reclamation Work in the Colorado River Basin,” Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado River Office, June 29, 1961.

Lammi, E. W., “All-Federal Power Line Is Approved,” Provo Daily Herald, September 25, 1961, 1.

Secondary Source

Udall, Morris K. Those Glen Canyon Transmission Lines – Some Facts and Figures on a Bitter Dispute, July 1961.