Abiotic & biotic responses of the colorado river to controlled floods at Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona, USA

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Abstract

Closure of Glen Canyon Dam reduced sand supply to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park by about 94% while its operation has also eroded the park's sandbar habitats. Three controlled floods released from the dam since 1995 suggest that sandbars might be rebuilt and maintained, but only if repeated floods are timed to follow tributary sand deliveries below the dam. Monitoring data show that sandbars are dynamic and that their erosion after bar building is positively related with mean daily discharge and negatively related with tributary sand production after controlled floods. The March 2008 flood affected non-native rainbow trout abundance in the Lees Ferry tailwater, which supports a blue ribbon fishery. Downstream trout dispersal from the tailwater results in negative competitive interactions and predation on endangered humpback chub. Early survival rates of age-0 trout increased more than fourfold following the 2008 flood, and twofold in 2009, relative to prior years (2006-2007). Hatch-date analysis indicated that early survival rates were much higher for cohorts that emerged about 2 months after the 2008 flood relative to cohorts that emerged earlier that year. The 2009 survival data suggest that tailwater habitat improvements persisted for at least a year, but apparently decreased in 2010. Increased early survival rates for trout coincided with the increased availability of higher quality drifting food items after the 2008 flood owing to an increase in midges and black flies, preferred food items of rainbow trout. Repeated floods from the dam might sustainably rebuild and maintain sandbars if released when new tributary sand is available below the tailwater. Spring flooding might also sustain increased trout abundance and benefit the tailwater fishery, but also be a potential risk to humpback chub in Grand Canyon. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Melis, T. S., Korman, J., & Kennedy, T. A. (2012). Abiotic & biotic responses of the colorado river to controlled floods at Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona, USA. River Research and Applications, 28(6), 764–776. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.1503

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