clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Experimental high-flow release at Glen Canyon Dam may restore sediment, scientists say

PAGE, Ariz. — There is a low, rumbling sound that can be heard in Page, Arizona, this week.

The sound that started Monday will last until late Friday afternoon, and thousands of people are coming to Page to see where the sound is coming from.

"It looks very peaceful,” said Eva Fager, who is visiting the area from Sweden. “It’s peaceful, huge and powerful.”

The origin of the sound isn’t a mystery.

It’s coming from the Glen Canyon Dam, where engineers with the United States Bureau of Reclamation are releasing more water than usual as part of an experiment.

"It’s gorgeous. Words can't describe the beauty,” said Paul Drudge of nearby Church Wells, Kane County.

Drudge and his wife made the short drive to the Glen Canyon Dam to see the four tubes releasing water into the Colorado River.

“We are seeing a few more people coming here,” said Jason Tucker, the Glen Canyon Dam facility manager. “They'll call and say, 'I’d like to bring my family. I'd like to see that,' and there is a tour for them to go. It's unprecedented on the river to have this kind of flow.”

When construction of the Glen Canyon Dam began in 1956 to store water and generate electricity, it affected the natural flow of the Colorado River through the area and into the Grand Canyon.

This “experimental high-flow release” — the third of its kind in the past three years — is meant to kick up sand and sediment on the bottom of the river and move them downstream.

Scientists with the United States Geological Survey and other agencies say the force from the water will rebuild sandbars, beaches, recreation areas and animal habitat that would have been part of the normal environment if Glen Canyon Dam were never built.

"I wouldn't judge whether that's responsible or not, but that it is that you have changed something,” Tucker said. “Experiments like this are ways to find a meaningful way to restore or preserve that ecosystem downstream.”

Fifteen-thousand cubic feet of water per second is flowing out of the dam into the Colorado River.

To put that in perspective, a basketball is about one cubic foot. That means roughly 15,000 basketballs are being released out of the dam every single second.

"It's something that is very visually striking to see,” Tucker said.

Releasing so much water doesn’t impact drought conditions, he said.

“The same amount of water is going to be released from Glen Canyon Dam throughout the year, so since this is a higher-flow period, obviously with the experiment that is here, that will be compensated for in other months where there will be less water that will go through the dam,” Tucker said.

This is the third in a five-year plan to conduct experimental high-flow releases.