On the Colorado, a grand experiment meets Mother Nature

  • Water is released from Glen Canyon DAm in a 90-hour flood last November in an experiment that might have killed native fish

    US BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
  "It’s really hard to kill fish with water," says Joe Shannon, a professor of aquatic ecology with Northern Arizona University. But a recent experiment intended to help native fish in the Colorado River might have done just that.

In November, officials from the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center released a 90-hour flood from Glen Canyon Dam to stir up sediment from downstream tributaries. The researchers wanted to redistribute thousands of tons of sand to enhance recreational beaches and create backwater habitats in which native fish thrive. But a recent report on post-flood fish counts showed a 63 percent decline in the juvenile population of the endangered humpback chub, compared to pre-flood counts. The chub is one of four species of native fish still found in the Grand Canyon.

During the experiment, the Little Colorado River — a tributary that’s the primary habitat of the humpback chub — surprised researchers by flooding naturally. "Mother Nature can throw you curveballs," says Lew Coggins, a fisheries biologist with the Research Center. The unanticipated weather may have washed fish downstream — dead or alive — and also created murky conditions that might have interfered with the post-flood count.

The rare chub might already be beyond salvation: Only 1,000 to 3,000 of the fish still swim in the Grand Canyon. Shannon notes that there is no scientific evidence to show that sand displacement would even help the species. Instead, he and other conservationists say that invasive fish that prey on chub, such as brown trout, should be eradicated.

He also suggests managing the river to mimic pre-dam flows. "It’s completely unnatural," says Shannon. "The whole thing is completely out of whack."

High Country News Classifieds
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...