Living Rivers - Colorado Riverkeeper
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LR Press Release
October 24, 2005

Grand Canyon Restoration Program, a Failing Grade

Government to release scorecard

For immediate release

Contact: John Weisheit, 435-259-1063; Cell: 435-260-2590

PHOENIX - On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the federal program established to reverse the ecological impacts of Glen Canyon Dam's operations on Grand Canyon's Colorado River corridor, government scientists will release an internal analysis of their progress.

"The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon" report will be presented and discussed at a three-day symposium which begins here on Tuesday.

"Their primary objective was to stop Grand Canyon's endangered native fish from going extinct and to help recover those species already lost, but after $200 million spent, one more species has disappeared and another now hangs in the balance," says Living Rivers conservation director John Weisheit.

Living Rivers own assessment (below) of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program's 12 goals reveals that no progress is being made on eight. Two areas where progress can be claimed, hydropower production and preservation of non-native trout habitat, happen to be in conflict with the core objectives of native habitat restoration. The only other area of progress has been not to impinge on river recreation opportunities.

These program goals were rooted in recommendations of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed in 1995 to comply with the Grand Canyon Protection Act passed by Congress three years earlier. "All the past decade has taught us is that the findings and assumptions of the EIS were insufficient," adds John Weisheit. "The declining state of the ecosystem proves the program has been a failure and it's high time for a new EIS to be undertaken that reflects this new reality."

What Living Rivers and more than 200 other organizations have been calling for is the implementation of management strategies that will restore the natural processes that have been lost during the four decades since Glen Canyon Dam has been in operation, including:�

* A water temperature regime that fluctuates seasonally from near freezing to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, not the year-round dam releases of 47 degrees.

* River flows that fluctuate seasonally from 3,000 to 100,000 CFS (cubic feet per second), not daily between 8,000 and 20,000 CFS.

* The return of the sediment required to maintain sandbar habitat and supply nutrients to the food web.

* The removal of non-native fish that inhabit the post-dam environment and compete with the native fish.

"This ten-year masquerade of a recovery program must come to an end," stresses Weisheit. "The habitat can no longer absorb this kind of help, and it's time to revert back to what nature intended by examining the benefits of decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam."


Living Rivers Scorecard
Ten-Year Assessment of Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Goals

0=Failing; 1=Unacceptable; 2=No Effect; 3=Potential Progress; 4=Achieving Goal

1. Protect or improve the aquatic food base so that it will support viable populations of desired species at higher trophic levels.

An ongoing decline in composition, diversity and biomass of the native food base continues in the Colorado River, which will be modified further as low reservoir levels at Lake Powell change the downstream thermal regime which will result in additional chemical and biological changes to occur. (Score 0)

2. Maintain or attain viable populations of existing native fish, remove jeopardy from humpback chub and razorback sucker, and prevent adverse modification to their critical habitat.

Humpback Chub populations have declined 67 percent since the program began, and continues to be threatened with extinction. In November 2004 the AMP sponsored a beach rebuilding event in the Grand Canyon which resulted in documented significant losses to the remaining humpback chub populations. The razorback sucker is now confirmed to be extirpated from Grand Canyon. (Score 0)

3. Restore populations of extirpated species, as feasible and advisable.

There has been little effort, and no success, in establishing a second humpback chub population in the river's main stem as required by the program, nor has there been efforts to recover any extirpated species. The AMP focus appears to be concentrated primarily on the removal of trout which is a temporary Band-Aid as long as trout are allowed to remain above Lees Ferry. The AMP program primarily funds the continued monitoring of the demise of the species rather than focusing on specific actions that would support the recovery of the humpback chub. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has failed in its responsibility to recover and protect the listed fish species in the Grand Canyon. (Score 0)

4. Maintain a naturally reproducing population of rainbow trout above the Paria River, to the extent practicable and consistent with the maintenance of viable populations of native fish.

Trout populations have been preserved, but there has yet to be the establishment of viable populations of native fish which are prey to the trout, an appropriate balance, if indeed possible, has also yet to be achieved. The maintenance of the trout fishery above Lee's Ferry severely limits any potential action that can be taken to support the native fish species. (Score 2)

5. Maintain or attain viable populations of Kanab Ambersnail.

Attempts have been made to establish new wild populations of Kanab Ambersnails in three additional natural springs along the Colorado River. These sites are located above the historic high water mark, so that the new populations will be protected from the experimental scouring floods. (Score 3)

6. Protect or improve the biotic riparian and spring communities including threatened and endangered species and their critical habitat.

Marshes, riparian plant communities and sandy beaches are essential to maintain the diversity of wildlife, enhance visitor use and preserve cultural resources. Without sediment and nutrient replacement and effective exotic plant removal programs these resources will continue to degrade. Dam controlled releases and the lack of sediment input to the Grand Canyon ecosystem limits the extent of any protection or improvement effort. Again, the ongoing AMP program is oriented to the continued monitoring of the demise of the ecosystem. (Score 0)

7. Establish water temperature, quality, and flow dynamics to achieve the Adaptive Management Program ecosystem goals.

First proposed ten years ago, progress continues to be nothing more than talk in achieving temperature regimes or flow dynamics beneficial to native fish recovery. No actions have been taken to augment changes that are ongoing in the reservoir. Lack of action by the AMP to thoroughly evaluate changes in water chemistry, sediment supply and thermal regimes indicates that the program is more interested in maintaining the status quo than looking for solutions to the environmental problems below Glen Canyon Dam. (Score 0)

8. Maintain or attain levels of sediment storage within the main channel and along shorelines to achieve the adaptive management program ecosystem goals.

Despite several attempts to utilize specialized dam operating techniques to conserve sediment, such practices have proven not to achieve lasting results. Operations to periodically stir up the sediments in the Grand Canyon do not address the real problem of the lack of sediment supply. Without an aggressive approach to the management of sediment which includes the movement of sediment around Glen Canyon Dam, long-term solutions cannot be achieved. The proposal to augment the system with sediment from outside still continues to be nothing more than a ten-year discussion item. (Score 1)

9. Maintain or improve the quality of recreational experiences for users of the Colorado River ecosystem, within the framework of the adaptive management program ecosystem goals.

By in large, the "quality" of the recreational experience in the river corridor has not been unduly compromised by the program. However, this experience remains inconsistent and violates the basic precepts of the protection of the National Park and makes a travesty of the National Park Service Organic Act. The AMP program is keeping the status quo while allowing visitors to experience an ecosystems but violates the intent and purpose of the providing and environment that has been left 'unimpaired" for future generations. (Score 4)

10. Maintain power production capacity and energy generation, and increase where feasible and advisable, within the framework of the adaptive management program ecosystem goals.

Glen Canyon Dam power production has continued, and has at times has been modified to allow for scientific experimentation. However the intent of the AMP is to keep the power system functioning at all costs. Power production has been modified, but at times of year that are conducive to minimize power impacts instead of focusing on completing the studies during periods of the year that would show the most scientific value. Fulfilling this objective has significantly restricted options toward achieving the broader goal of ecosystem restoration. (Score 4)

11. Preserve, protect, manage and treat cultural resources for the inspiration and benefit of past, present and future generations.

Archeological resources along the river continue to be threatened by the lack of sediment to continuously rebuild and stabilize the banks.�As a result, artifacts must be removed, as opposed to be protected in-situ as prescribed by historic preservation legislation. Native American tribes continue to have their programs reduced and their involvement limited to periodic river trips and occasional consultation. (Score 1)

12. Maintain a high quality monitoring, research, and adaptive management program.

The program has been plagued by staff turnover, the removal of staff and consultants whose findings may be disagreeable to water and power interests, and has abandoned the policy of obtaining peer review of their protocols and findings. Further the lack of following the intent of the National Resource Council recommendations and continuing the focus on monitoring and data management limit the intent and objectives and requirements of the Grand Canyon Protection Act. (Score 1)


Addtional information:

Science Symposium program and location

Living Rivers letter asking for Supplemental Environmental Impact Study

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Last Update: October 30, 2007

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Living Rivers    PO Box 466     Moab, UT 84532     435.259.1063