Scientists flood Grand Canyon to restore biodiversity

Scientists have begun pumping gallons of silt and water into Arizona's world-famous beauty spot the Grand Canyon in an attempt to boost dwindling levels of local wildlife.

As part of an operation lasting for around 90 hours, huge jets of water are being poured from the Glen Canyon Dam, shifting hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes of silt, sand and sediment along the Canyon’s bed.

A group of Scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Centre, the National Park Service and some other organisations are flooding the bed in the hope that backwaters, beaches and sandbars will be regenerated and restored.

These are vital to the survival of the various species of birds, fish and plants that inhabit the unique ecosystem. Four of the eight fish that were native to the Grand Canyon have already become extinct.

The dam, which was built 40 years ago, has threatened the Canyon’s fragile ecosystem and its biodiversity. This operation will try to reverse some of the damage already done.

“The operation will focus on sediment distribution, native fish and food for aquatic animals,” the USGS said in a statement. “The results of the experiment will be used to evaluate the use of high flows to redistribute sediment as a management tool for the preservation and restoration of natural and cultural resources in the Colorado River corridor below Glen Canyon Dam.”

Special attention will be focussed on the well-being of the remaining native fish, including the Humpback Chub, an endangered species. Scientists will be monitoring how the high flow releases affect the survival of a population of young Humpback Chubs near the confluence of the Little Colorado River.

Another major focus of the experiment will be endangered species the Kanab Ambersnail, as the research team will work to discover if its habitat can be protected from the flood by moving vegetation by hand to above flood water level. It will then be returned after the flooding, after being applied with growth hormones, to encourage the re-establishment of the snail’s habitat.

“Scientific studies will continue after the high-flow experiment to examine the condition and status of sediment deposited on the beaches,” the USGS continued, “as well as the long-term effect on the natural and cultural resources.”

By Jane Kettle

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