Millions of gallons of water coursed through the Grand Canyon on Wednesday in a flood designed to force healthy river sediment through the ecosystem. The dam is releasing four to five times its usual flow during the three-day flood, which U.S. officials hope will be enough to restore the sandbars on the Colorado River downstream. (The canyon has been flooded twice before, in 1996 and 2004.)
Before the dam was constructed in 1963 to generate hydroelectric power, natural flooding from the warm and muddy river built up sandbars that are essential to native plant and fish species. With its sediment blocked by the dam today, the river runs cool and clear, a marked change that has helped speed the extinction of four fish species and push two others, including the endangered humpback chub, near the brink.
But is it a case of too little, too late? Environmentalists say that one giant flush isn't enough to restore the river—and may actually cause more harm than good. "This so-called experiment ignores the results of a decade worth of research obtained with more than $80 million tax dollars," Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibilities tells Times Online, claiming the flood went against the latest scientific evidence. "This week's high-flow stunt is nothing but a green wash to mask another betrayal of the Grand Canyon by its political custodians."
One flood isn't enough, Steve Martin, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, tells the Los Angeles Times, citing 10 years of research that at a cost of $80 million had shown that the flooding as planned could irreparably harm the surrounding ecology and resources. In fact, he says, holding off follow-up floods for months would leave endangered species, sandbars used by river-rafting trips, and archaeological treasures at river's edge diminished "almost to the point of no return." ::AP, ::Reuters, ::Times Online, and the ::Los Angeles Times