Have you heard about the high-flow experiments at Glen Canyon Dam? This is something we at GCW are pretty excited about. A team of Colorado River stakeholders — folks from the National Park Service, the state game and fish department, hydroelectric power companies, and rafting tour companies like us — have been trying to figure out the best way to manage the water that flows out of Glen Canyon Dam through Grand Canyon.
Some people are most concerned about optimum flows for power generation and consumption, some people are most concerned about the well-being of endangered Colorado River critters (like the humpback chub), and some people are concerned about creating ideal recreational conditions in the Canyon. We at GCW believe the best way to achieve a lot of these goals is by releasing high volumes of water from the dam periodically, to try to mimic pre-dam floods.
Before the dam was completed in the early 1960s, floods would wash sand and silt down the Mighty Colorado a few times each year. That sand would get caught at various places in Grand Canyon and would build up the beaches. These plush, fat, sandy beaches were great for river rafting tours — lots of room for boats and to camp! The humpback chub also seems to do best when pre-dam conditions are recreated.
The Colorado River stakeholders have done a few high-flow tests in the past decade and, this year, got approval from the U.S. secretary of the interior to release high quantities of water from the dam as many as two times each year. It’s a complicated determination process but, the exciting news is, everyone decided the conditions were ideal in November to do a high-flow release!
They pumped up the release from a low 8,000 cubic feet of water per second to a very cool 42,000 cfs! To put that in perspective, if you took a Colorado River tour with us, you probably saw water levels between about 10,000 cfs and maybe 20,000 cfs. They ran the high flow for 5 days.
We can’t wait to hear how the Canyon looks, now that the high-flow release is over. We’ll be keeping an eye on this, and we hope you’ll follow it as well!