Grand Canyon Flood Helps Ecology, Hurts Energy

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Last week, Park Service officials from the Grand Canyon oversaw a 60-hour flood from the Glen Canyon dam that raised outflow from 14,000 cubic feet per second to a torrential 41,000 cubic feet per second. The purpose was to reintroduce the seasonal flow of sand and mud into the Colorado River that has been blocked since the dam's construction in the 60s. Without this flow of sand, sandbars crucial to threatened fish species can't form, and archaeological sites and historical beaches slowly get washed away.

After early expeditions last week found new sandbars and fresh beaches already forming, park officials are ready to call the dam release a success. They'd like more dam releases to restore the natural ecology of the Grand Canyon, but not everyone is excited about the prospect: The releases take hydroelectric power away from western communities, meaning power prices go up for cities like Salt Lake City and Phoenix.

The National Park Service is charged with protecting and preserving endemic species to the canyon, like the humpback chub, a foot-long member of the minnow family threatened by the dam. But the dam release cost western household owners about $4 million (which breaks down to around $10 per household).

It's too early to say whether the national parks' efforts to restore a natural river will win out over humans' thirst for inexpensive power, but for now, the humpback chub is having a pretty good week. — Ted Alvarez

Grand Canyon flood: Dam release tapped power to build beaches (Salt Lake Tribune)