April 12, 1996 in Nation/World

Grand Canyon Flood Declared A Big Success

Los Angeles Times
 

Like a giant mixmaster, the artificial flood unleashed in the Grand Canyon last month did what it was designed to do, according to experts - churning up tons of sediment, restoring estuaries and enlarging beaches and wildlife habitat.

“The success exceeds the most optimistic hopes of the scientists,” said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who triggered the weeklong gusher that totaled 360,000 acre feet of rushing water - about the same amount that the city of Los Angeles consumes in seven months.

Joined by environmental scientists from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who were in charge of the flood, Babbitt spoke during a Washington, D.C., news conference Thursday.

Canyon beaches and sandbars grew by about 30 percent, say scientists who observed the flood from different vantage points along the 290 mile stretch of the Colorado River that flows from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead.

While the river rose by more than 13 feet, scientists said they found little damage to any of the endangered birds, fish or snails that dwell in the canyon.

Initially opposed by hydropower interests, which saw it as a waste of water, the release represented the first time the government has opened the floodgates of one of its own dams in order to repair some of the damage done to river canyons denied their natural flows for many years.

Since the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963 to provide electrical power to six Western states, floods that once coursed through the Grand Canyon have been rare. As a result, the sediments and nutrients that buttressed canyon walls and sustained native fish were trapped above the dam in Lake Powell.

Below the dam, a new river emerged, clearer, colder and subject to daily fluctuations by the dam.

But the post-dam river was not hostile to all living creatures.

A clearer river admitted more light that stimulated algae to grow. The algae supported trout, a non-native species that thrived after it was introduced. The trout attracted bald eagles which were uncommon in the canyon before the dam was built.


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