Manmade flood unleashed in Grand Canyon |

Manmade flood unleashed in Grand Canyon

PAGE, Ariz. (AP) ” With a powerful roar, two arcs of water began shooting from the base of the Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona on Wednesday as a manmade

flood designed to help restore the Grand Canyon’s ecosystem was unleashed.

More than 300,000 gallons of water per second were being released from Lake

Powell above the dam near the Arizona-Utah border, enough to fill the Empire State Building in 20 minutes, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said.

“This gives you a glimpse of what nature has been doing for millions of years, cutting through and creating this magnificent canyon,” Kempthorne told The Associated Press after he pulled the lever releasing the water.

The water gushed from the dam into the Colorado River below, creating a churning, frothy pool that glided past the salmon-colored sandstone walls of the canyon.

The water level in the Grand Canyon will only rise a few feet as a result of the three-day flood, but officials hope it will restore sandbars on the Colorado River downstream from the dam.

Officials have created a manmade flood in the canyon twice before, in 1996 and 2004, as part of efforts to mimic natural cycles on the river.

Before the dam was built in 1963, the Colorado River was warm and muddy, and natural flooding built up sandbars that are essential to native plant and fish species. The river is now cool and clear, its sediment blocked by the dam.

The change helped speed the extinction of four fish species and push two others, including the endangered humpback chub, near the edge.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin said any benefits from this week’s flood will be eroded away within 1 1/2 years. Man-made floods need to occur every time there’s enough sediment to do so, he said, about every one to two years depending on Arizona’s volatile monsoon season.

“The science is really clear that’s what we need to do, and if we don’t, the resources have been so diminished that we could actually impair the canyon,” Martin said.

Shrinking beaches have led to the loss of half the camping sites in the canyon in the past decade. Since the Glen Canyon dam was built, Martin said 98 percent of the sediment has eroded in the Colorado River.

During this week’s flood, flows in the Grand Canyon are expected to increase to 41,000 cubic feet per second for nearly three days ” four to five times the normal amount of water released from the Glen Canyon Dam.

Scientists will conduct several experiments during and following this week’s flood, including one that will document habitat changes and determine how backwater habitats are used by the chub and other fish, and one that will look at how higher water flows affect the aquatic food base.

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