U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to make an appearance just south of Utah’s border at Glen Canyon Dam Monday. Salazar will be there to trigger a controlled flood from Utah’s Lake Powell into Arizona’s Glen and Grand Canyons, the first high-flow release conducted at that dam since 2008.
Jack Schmidt is faculty at Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Resources, but he took leave about a year ago to be chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. Schmidt is coordinating today’s flood, the fourth such release ever to occur at the Glen Canyon Dam. The first was in 1996.
“There is a tremendous interest in the management of the Colorado river," Schmidt told KUER, “To balance the need for water supply, electricity, and to benefit the environment is a delicate political juggling act that necessitates a lot of very good communication between scientists, engineers, and public policy decision makers. Whenever these floods occur, they’re a significant event.”
The floods are designed to rebuild and conserve sandbars, beaches, and associated backwater habitats that have been lost or depleted since the dam's construction. Schmidt says these controlled floods are likely to occur more often now, thanks to a new protocol announced in May by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The protocol allows government agencies to respond quickly when the right conditions exist to redistribute sediment through a controlled flood.
“Because all this environmental compliance had already been done, this protocol was in place and this flood very quickly was scheduled,” said Schmidt, “Had that new protocol not been established, this flood would never be occurring this year.”
Schmidt says scientists will be monitoring the effects of the new protocol over the next ten years.