As dawn’s light filtered into the sandstone gorge 600 feet below the lip of Glen Canyon Dam, a cannonade of water blasted out across the Colorado River, a cheer went up and the first attempt to rejuvenate the Grand Canyon by flooding it was under way.
U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who pushed the button that triggered the gusher Tuesday, hailed the occasion as the beginning of “a new era in the way we live on the American landscape.”
It was the first time that the federal government has opened the flood gates on one of its own dams in order to repair the damage done to river canyons that have been denied their natural flow for many years.
As the flood tide rolls down through nearly 300 miles of the Grand Canyon National Park over the next week, it will remove debris, unclog back channels that are the historic spawning areas for fish and rebuild other natural habitat along with the beaches that the canyon’s booming river rafting industry depends on for campsites.
Yet, even as they cheered, some of the experts present were skeptical about the ultimate impact of what amounted to a bureaucratic compromise - a flood that some scientists believe is too small, too short and taking place too early in the year.
“This is a pretty wimpy flood,” said Jack Schmidt, a geomorphologist at Utah State University. An adviser on the project, Schmidt said he had recommended a flow of close to 60,000 cubic feet per second for two weeks instead of what is taking place - about 45,000 cubic feet per second for one week.