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outflow spouts

Grand Canyon flooding proves a success

May be repeated at other U.S. dams

April 12, 1996
Web posted at: 7:50 a.m. EDT

From Reporter Mark Bernheimer

GLEN CANYON, Arizona (CNN) -- For an entire week in March, four massive pipes released an intentional man-made flood into the Grand Canyon from behind Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam. (690K QuickTime movie)

The experiment, every bit as grand as the canyon itself, was designed to simulate natural flooding that hasn't happened on the Colorado River since the dam was built in the 1960s. On Thursday, word came that the plan worked perfectly.


"The success of this experiment exceeds, I think, the most optimistic hopes of our staff, the scientists, and all the participants," said U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Government video shows the flood left new sand drifts and beaches along the banks of the Colorado. In fact, the beaches appear to have increased by about 30 percent, Babbitt said. The floodwaters also carved out eddies and back-channels, which make perfect breeding grounds for several species of fish, including the endangered humpback chub.

humpback chup

The experiment will benefit not only the chub but all kinds of wildlife. The same sediment that temporarily turned the waters of the Colorado brown will also nourish native plants.

In some areas, the flooding was so successful at restoring the original habitat that it caught scientists off guard. Some of their equipment was found buried under three feet of mud kicked up by the turmoil of the rushing floods.

water level in river

U.S. lands officials are considering repeating the procedure on a regular basis. Dave Wegner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which supervised the project, said that his group would be looking over data as it comes in over the next couple of months, "to see how we can integrate this into future operations of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River itself."

The project cost $4 million, mostly in lost electrical generating revenues at the dam. But federal officials believe it's a small price to pay for the benefits gained. They're already talking about unleashing controlled floods in other parts of the country to do a job they've prevented Mother Nature from doing.

Babbitt suggested several possible future sites, including the Florida Everglades, the Mississippi River delta, and the Pacific Northwest.

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