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Manmade Flood to Nourish Grand Canyon Ecosystem

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the two-of-every-kind-of-tourist dept.

Science 56

Dr. Eggman writes "The Associated Press brings us news of a flood in the Grand Canyon. This flood is no ordinary flood, however. This is a man-made flood released from the Glen Canyon Dam. The Dam is releasing four to five times its normal amount of water over the course of a three day artificial flood. Scientists are conducting this massive experiment in order to document and better understand the complex relation of the aquatic habitats, natural floods, and the sediment they bring. Floods no longer bring sediment to these parts of the canyon as the Dam keeps it locked up and released in small, drawn out intervals. The Dam prevents the floods from bringing the sediments in to replenish the sandbars and allow the river to maintain its warm, murky habitat rather than a cool, clear one. It is thought that this cool clear environment brought on by the dam is responsible for helping to extinguish 4 species of fish and push 2 more towards the brink. It is hoped that this terra-reformation experiment will positively impact the habitat and fish populations, warranting further artificial floods at an increased rate of every one to two years rather than the time span between the two previous floods and this one of 8 and 4 years."

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enough sediment (4, Informative)

peektwice (726616) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658540)

So there's enough sediment behind the dam to be a problem, and in the process of flushing it, they also can claim to be helping the canyon's ecosystem. Not to be a pessimist, but it looks to me like they're just flushing the sediment. They've done this twice before, according to TFA.

Re:enough sediment (1)

peektwice (726616) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658576)

After reading related articles, it seems that they are trying to pick up sediment from the bottom of the river below the dam, but still, will it fix anything?

Re:enough sediment (0, Troll)

professional_troll (1178701) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658864)

Linsey Lohan's vagina?

Re:enough sediment (2, Insightful)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658582)

Mod parent up. If they really want to 'restore' the earlier eco-system, the dam should be removed. How can effect of years of flow be achieved with one or two 'manmade' floods?

Re:enough sediment (4, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658848)

The natural state of the river did not, according to theory, see the average flow building up sediment, but rather from the sound of the article swept away more sediment than it deposited. It was the natural flooding of the Arizona monsoon seasons that deposited enough sediment to replenish the habitat, often enough to prevent species populations from collapsing. The artificial floods are meant to mimic those flood, every one to two YEARS (if the practice proves beneficial then on a continuing basis) and restore the habitats to a state similar to before the Dam. Removing the Dam is out of the question. Frankly, I'd be happy they're concerned enough to warrant the possibility of making this an annual event; considering the last two times this flooding occured just to flush out the sediment were in 1996 and 2004. 8 years and 4 years before they need to dump sediment for the Dam's sake, but purpose every year or two years for the environment's sake.

Re:enough sediment (4, Informative)

fredrated (639554) | more than 6 years ago | (#22663278)

The 'average' flow either deposited or removed sediment, depending on the amount of sediment already present when the flow occured. The Colorado River was named 'red' for a reason: it always carried a huge sediment load which it had picked up along the whole length of its run from the rocky mountains. The canyon and the river were in dynamic equilibrium: if the river was a little under in it's sediment load it would scour some from the canyon; if it had a little more than usual it would deposit sediment. The reason the Arizona monsoon has come to play a dominent role is because almost all of the pre-canyon sediment load is deposited at the head of lake Powell now, so now the only significant sediment is what is deposited by the Paria, the Little Colorado and other side canyons below the dam, when they flood during the monsoon. And that amount is pathetically small compared to what the river carried in the pre-dam period.

The Arizona monsoon floods were not necessary to keep species from collapsing, the river always had a huge sediment load that was inimical to species like trout that need clear water. Thus there was basically no competition for habitat until Glen Canyon Dam turned the water clear. All that the artifical floods do is churn up the 'monsoon' deposited sediment from the bottom and move it up onto the existing and previously existing beach sites, benificial for plant and animal habitat. It does nothing for the hump-back chub because in very short order the water will run clear again. And the previous 2 floods have demonstrated that these newly deposited beach sands do not stay long. As long as the Colorado River through Grand Canyon runs clear it will scour and carry away sediment to Lake Meade.

I am not sure what you mean in the sentence fragment "...before they need to dump sediment for the Dam's sake...", but no sediment is being removed from behind the dam. In fact, geologists estimate that it will probably be only a couple of hundred years before lake Powell is full of sediment and the dam will become a waterfall. The waterfall will then undercut the damn pretty quickly, as it has undercut lava flows in the past, and the dam will be gone.

As for the articles comment that half the camp sites in the canyon are disappearing, this only refers to camp sites used by river runners. If you backpack in the canyon back country, the best place to go, you will find an unlimited number of camp sites.

Re:enough sediment (1)

hamburger lady (218108) | more than 6 years ago | (#22663424)

the hump-back chub

luckily, the titpecker is thriving.

Re:enough sediment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22658918)

those years of flow were likely just one or two seasonal floods.

Remove the Dam? (1)

Maint_Pgmr_3 (769003) | more than 6 years ago | (#22666564)

Glen Canyon Dam's Life expectancy was 75 yrs, and was completed in the 60's. Why 75yrs? That's the rate that the sediment is filling up behind the dam.

Been there, done that...

Don't worry about it (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22658594)

Nature isn't easily effected by man. Witness for example this year's very cold wintar. Looks like global warming is on the retreat. The earth is actually quite robust.

Re:Don't worry about it (2, Informative)

AngelofDeath-02 (550129) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658850)

And of course, then there's the theory that global warming affects the ocean currents, that distribute the warm and cold climates, causing winters to be milder, and summers cooler ...

Thats why here in AZ I wore a t-shirt Clear till Mid January. Oh ya.. I'm wearing a T-shirt now, too =)

Anyway, I think its too early to dismiss global warming like you are doing. I agree that the earth is robust, but seasonal extremes is one predicted outcome of this scenario.

Re:Don't worry about it (1)

SacredByte (1122105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660472)

I'm within an hour of Philadelphia here, and I've been wearing t-sirts and sandals all winter. This doesn't mean its warm, just that I choose to wear such clothing. If I were in AZ, I would likely be comfortable (to uncomfortably warm) in what I normally wear.

Man must seek to adapt [to] environment.

Re:Don't worry about it (1)

AngelofDeath-02 (550129) | more than 6 years ago | (#22661428)

Then allow me to clarify - It was 70-80 degrees when I was wearing such clothes =) sometimes in the 90's ...

I'm actually very acclimated to the desert... I get cold around 72F and seek warmer clothing...

Re:Don't worry about it (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659032)

Power-law scaling pretty much guarantees cold winters once in a while. One climatic happening is hardly cause to proclaim that humans have little to no effect on the climatic.

Re:Don't worry about it (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660510)

What cold winter? I thought it was record warm January and February. Not snow but raining, dark and miserable. At least it's not cold, but I'd take cold sunshine over wet darkness any day, or cold starlight over wet darkness any night... Bloody global warming...

(A note to the Gulf Stream: please please please don't stop, I'll still take wet and dark over permafrost...)

Re:Don't worry about it (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#22662482)

Cold Winter? 2007 was the coldest YEAR in almost a century. I know and reinforce that one datapoint does not a trend make, but I don't think any of the computer models saw a sudden cooling coming so I'm still skeptical about their long term validity (yes I know you can often trend things better over a long period then over a short period but the climate models are trying to model the biggest system we know of).

Re:Don't worry about it (3, Informative)

thestuckmud (955767) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659518)

Nature isn't easily effected by man.
On the contrary, most biologists believe we are in the beginning of a period of primarily anthropogenic mass extinction, called the Holocene extinction event [wikipedia.org] . Whether or not we choose to say this effect was achieved "easily", it is already substantial.

Re:Don't worry about it (2, Funny)

hellergood (968199) | more than 6 years ago | (#22663786)

HA! GODWIN'S-- Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Re:enough sediment (1)

Degreeless (1250850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658768)

Periodic inundation can be helpful to the ecosystem but this does smack a bit of rebranding dumping as conservation. If they truly want to flood the canyon in sync with the environment does that not also mean that the dam itself is failing to serve its purpose?

Re:enough sediment (1)

perlchild (582235) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658908)

I wonder if they can really justify that such a massive amount of water, over such a short time, is much better than controlled amounts. For anything in its path, they're just unleashing a tiny tsunami. Wouldn't controlled amounts over a year be a better solution, or is the desired effect, controlled destruction? (Like how a forest fire helps revive a forest)

Re:enough sediment (4, Interesting)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658998)

The flood is a three-day event, and "The water level in the canyon will only rise a few feet." Water flows regularly in the area, but its a flood event when an abnormally high volume of water is released over a period of time. Think of the Nile river floods of ancient Egypt; they weren't sweeping away everything in their path, but gently raising the water levels to consume the banks, depositing sediment before receding and leaving revitalized agricultural grounds to the Egyptian farmers.

Re:enough sediment (1)

Degreeless (1250850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659020)

It's difficult to say. Seasonal flooding certainly would be destructive and some destruction is necissary to ensure the sediment is dispersed across the flood plain. That said do too much and out of seasonal patterns and some wildlife that would avoid the flood via migration or other means might be caught unawares and adversely affected.

Re:enough sediment (2, Informative)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658884)

Don't know if I should reiterate this or not, but the last dump was in 2004 and the one before that was 1996. It hardly seems as though they need to dump sediment again for the Dam's sake after 4 years if the previous dump span was 8 years. Furthermore, the article proposes the possibility of annual or biannual dumps, if the restoration attempt proves beneficial to the fish habitats.

Re:enough sediment (3, Insightful)

Tiger4 (840741) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659080)

Are they really flushing the sediment behind the dam, or just eroding the banks near the floodgates to redeposit it further downstream?

I realize that some sediment will leave the dam. But, really most sediment from upstream drops out of the flow when the water slows as it enters Lake Powell. The sediment near the dam has been there for years, since the dam was new and the lake first filled. If you look at the released water, it is significantly clearer than the muddy stuff entering the lake upstream.

Re:enough sediment (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22661842)

It looks to me like the question isn't IF they do this (they already do on a regular schedule) but the frequency.

So perhaps they really are just trying to do the right thing?

And also see the other side.. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22658560)

Not saying its all wrong, but it does not harm to consider the criticism [nytimes.com] as well.

" Far from restoring crucial sand banks and other areas, the flows could destroy habitat, [Grand Canyon National Park Supt. Steve Martin] said. One flood was not enough, Martin said Monday. Holding off follow-up flows for months would leave endangered humpback chub fish, sandbars used by river rafting trips, and archaeological treasures at river's edge diminished "almost to the point of no return," he said."

Re:And also see the other side.. (2, Insightful)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658732)

" Far from restoring crucial sand banks and other areas, the flows could destroy habitat, [Grand Canyon National Park Supt. Steve Martin] said. One flood was not enough, Martin said Monday. Holding off follow-up flows for months would leave endangered humpback chub fish, sandbars used by river rafting trips, and archaeological treasures at river's edge diminished "almost to the point of no return," he said."

Those habitats survived thousands of years of flooding before we created the dam, what makes him think a single flood would destroy it? And, why does he say both that the flood will destroy the habitat and that without the flood the habitat will be destroyed? Superintendent, yes. Elegant speaker/thinker and specialist, I think not.

Re:And also see the other side.. (1)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660440)

Those habitats survived thousands of years of flooding before we created the dam, what makes him think a single flood would destroy it? And, why does he say both that the flood will destroy the habitat and that without the flood the habitat will be destroyed? Superintendent, yes. Elegant speaker/thinker and specialist, I think not.
Of course, there are probably 1800 or so different theories as to what will happen which just goes to show that the pursuit of science and truth is alive and well (also that at the end of the day we still know fuck-all about much of the natural world).

Re:And also see the other side.. (2, Insightful)

Geek Prophet (976927) | more than 6 years ago | (#22665578)

Those habitats survived thousands of years of flooding before we created the dam, what makes him think a single flood would destroy it?
He doesn't think the one flood will destroy it. He thinks the one flood could excessive damage. This is in part because the canyon's habitat is already damaged, and thus vulnerable. In addition, this is a large flood, and large floods are often more damaging than beneficial.

And, why does he say both that the flood will destroy the habitat and that without the flood the habitat will be destroyed?
He didn't say that the flood would both destroy and prevent the destruction of habitats. He said that floods, plural, on a regular basis would build up habitats, and that one big flood every year or two would destroy them.

Once upon a time, the Colorado ("Colored") River was famous for being filled with red silt. Species of fish that evolved in this environment lived in the Canyon. Sand bars were created almost continuously due to the silt that built up. Silt replenished the shores. Moderately frequent light floods would replenish the banks near the river further, and drag more silt into the river in other areas to supply more silt for maintaining the river's muddy quality. Very occasional large floods would both replenish and clear away some of this silt, preventing the river from being clogged while "spreading around" some of the silt to places where it was thin.

Today, the Colorado river runs clear. The fish that naturally evolved there are almost wiped out. Sand bars are disappearing. The shores that used to be replenished by the river are scoured clean by the clear water. The floods that built up the flood plains don't happen any more, and there is some question as to whether big floods are good or not anymore, with a river already cleaning itself too well.

The dissenting view is that the large floods without the small floods is bad.

Small floods frequently leave the water muddy for long periods of time, much more like the natural state of the Colorado ("Colored") River, and thus protecting the fish that naturally find this to be their habitat. Small floods leave deposits that create sandbars, which are normal for the Colorado, and are disappearing in the current conditions. Small floods rebuild shoreline habitats, which evolved to have frequent small quantities of mud deposited on them. Thus "without the flood(s) the habitat will be destroyed."

Big floods run muddy for days, then run clear again. This does not help with the problem of clear water which is killing those species of fish that evolved to live in the muddy Colorado. Big floods wash away sandbars. Big floods wash away shoreline habitats. Big floods wash away archaeological treasures that are above the high water mark for small floods. Thus "the flood will destroy the habitat."

His speaking may not have been elegant, but his thinking may be better than those in favor of this flood.

How is this different from .... (1)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658728)

Irrigation?!

Usually, it is a small area that gets a small amount of water 'inserted' by man... but this is a big area, so ... isn't it just irrigation on a large scale?

Re:How is this different from .... (2, Informative)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658952)

Its not so much about the volumes of water we are trying to bring downstream, in fact the Dam does regularly release water downstream (hence its function as a dam and not a reservoir barricade.) Instead, its about the material brought along with the water flow. The amount of sediment deposited by the regular flow is not enough to offset the sediment swept from the sandbars and it is hoped that periodical flood volumes of water would deposit much more sediment, enough to offset that which it takes as well as the regular flow takes. As you'll notice, although a larger volume of water is released in the artificial flood, the flow does not reach much farther up the sandbars than the regular flow.

Re:How is this different from .... (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#22662506)

Actually the story I read the other day said that a primary aim was to remove sediment from the bottom to open up rocky spawning pools that have been filled with sediment.

I have a better idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22658810)

Remove the damn dam and let nature do what it was doing before.

Re:I have a better idea! (5, Funny)

Gay for Linux (942545) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658960)

Screw civilization, it's time to go back to being hunters and gatherers. Man things were awesome then, what with all the hunting and the gathering. And the even more hunting and the gathering. And life sucking.

Re:I have a better idea! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22661656)

Oi, hunting, gathering and sex in the between... Don't you forget the sex!

Nothing to do in a pitch-black cave in the darkness of the night but to have sex... And then somebody invented primitive wine/beer, and then it was be drinking and sex, all night long...

Re:I have a better idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22663322)

Interestingly, I remember having to read a book in my anthropology class about fifteen years ago that suggested that very thing: the only way for humans to have a sustainable civilization was to live in a hunter-gatherer society with a much smaller population. Not sure I agree with that conclusion, but it was an interesting read. Don't remember the name though.

Re:I have a better idea! (3, Interesting)

wamerocity (1106155) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660576)

Great idea, except for that damn follows along the path to Lake Tahoe, and eventually to many thousands and thousands of residents of California who rely on Lake Powell to get their drinking water. I had a professor who was the president of the Glen Canyon Institute (a group that wants to drain Lake Powell and 'restore' Glen Canyon) and I've read all the arguments of why they think the dam is a bad idea, but they can never come up with a better solution on how to store all the millions of gallons of water for California as well as the 1.3 Megawatts of power it produces for many of the people in northern Arizona (especially since hydroelectric is the most 'green' source of power on the planet tied with solar power.)

Re:I have a better idea! (2, Insightful)

Maint_Pgmr_3 (769003) | more than 6 years ago | (#22666624)

Then where is Las Vegas going to get all of its electrical power?

hydroelectric is the most 'green' source of power
It may be green, but so Las Vegas, in the middle of no where.

Re:I have a better idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22693390)

Vegas gets very little power from Hydro - the majority of Hoover Dam's power is sent to CA. Vegas has natural gas and coal fired plants.

They also have a new solar plant just south of Boulder City - it's been so successful that Nevada Power (who serves Las Vegas) want's to build another. One small problem - the government (chiefly Harry Reid) are blocking the assignment of right of way to NP so they can construct power lines from the plant to a nearby substation to hook it into the grid. Why would Reid do this, you ask? It might have something to do with large amounts of campaign contributions from a consortium that wants to build a new coal fired power plant near Moapa. Then again, that could just be a conspiracy theory :p

Who let Beavis and Butt Head in to the control roo (-1, Offtopic)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658966)

Who let Beavis and Butt-Head in to the control room it was a big mess when they got in the one at Hoover Dam.

terra-reformation experiment ??? (0, Troll)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22658984)

Since when did releasing dam water get labeled "Terra-reformation". Intentional irrigation perhaps. Sounds too much like terraforming. This isn't happening on Mars, and Arnie's face isn't about to explode. Or did I misread the article? Is there some specialist use of the term I haven't heard of?

Heck I terra-reformed my back lawn this morning. The dogs needed a fresh bowl of water.

Terri-ble reporting more like.

Re:terra-reformation experiment ??? (1)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659110)

My bad, I was trying for a meta-humor but my Dammed creativity ran dry...

If they had done this earlier.. (2, Funny)

zaunuz (624853) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659592)

There could have been a sequel to Thelma and Louise

Manmade Food (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659776)

Anyone else read this as "Manmade Food to Nourish Grand Canyon" and automatically think of that famous Charlton Heston movie?
 

Re:Manmade Food (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660910)

I actually read this as "Marmalade Flood." ...which proves that the biggest hole on earth is still British.

Challenge at Glen Canyon (5, Interesting)

ElDuque (267493) | more than 6 years ago | (#22659882)

The Glen Canyon Dam was almost the site of a much larger flood in 1983, when it was nearly overtopped.

http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=%22the+1983+flood+at+glen+canyon%22&btnG=Google+Search [google.com]
http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2003-03/water-vapor-almost-busts-dam [popsci.com]

The cavitation damage to the solid rock of the spillway walls was truly incredible.

For an exciting telling of the story, search Google Video for "Challenge at Glen Canyon". (You will be instantly reminded of every National Parks visitors center you have been in.)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1358563539762136744 [google.com]

Mod parent up +Informative (1)

sapphire wyvern (1153271) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660542)

Very interesting links, thanks!

Re:Challenge at Glen Canyon (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22660636)

Thanks very much for the video link--very cool!

Re:Challenge at Glen Canyon (1)

fredrated (639554) | more than 6 years ago | (#22663382)

"The cavitation damage to the solid rock of the spillway walls was truly incredible." They found that the solution to keeping the spillway tubes (they don't actually spill over the dam but run through manmade culverts cut through the canyon walls) from being damaged in a flood was to cut 'key' slots into the ceiling.

You either love it or hate it... (1)

ParaShoot (992496) | more than 6 years ago | (#22661624)

I misread the title as "Marmite Flood to Nourish Grand Canyon Ecosystem", and started wondering whether the ecosystem would love it or hate it.

Just in case.. (2, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22662472)

Anyone have two of every animal and several billion tons of lumber I could borrow for a while?

Was there in '96 (3, Interesting)

doooooosh (1124823) | more than 6 years ago | (#22663408)

Went on a ten day backpack through a portion of the canyon just after they did this in 1996. I've traveled extensively since then all over the world, and that trip stands out as one of the most amazing I've ever been on. The sandbars that the floods left behind were the size of football fields in places, and as our group was the first to come through after the flooding, they were untouched. (Though the muddied river was hell on our water filters). Anyone who has the opportunity really should take a trip through the canyon at some point (how I envied the rafters who would float effortlessly by!); it's truly an awe inspiring trip.

Re:Was there in '96 (1)

fredrated (639554) | more than 6 years ago | (#22667348)

Hey, were you on the GCFI Grand Canyon Supergroup hike, 10 days Nankoweap to Bright Angle? Just a week or so after the '96 flood? If so then I was a fellow hiker! That hike was so awsome, I shudder to think of how hard it was.

Re:Was there in '96 (1)

doooooosh (1124823) | more than 6 years ago | (#22670606)

That was definitely the timeframe, but a different group. I wish I could come up with the exact route. I think it was from Grandview to South Kaibab? I can't be sure. The first day, 10 miles of hiking through the desert to the river nearly killed me.

why not just keep the sediment churned up? (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 6 years ago | (#22669458)

Why not install some sort of churning device near the dam, to stir up the sediment so it ALWAYS flows through the dam, thus achieving something closer to the natural pattern year-round??

Re:why not just keep the sediment churned up? (1)

k8to (9046) | more than 6 years ago | (#22670208)

I suspect this would not be popular because the dam is supossed to generate power. I haven't considered the relative amount produced and required.
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