Deciphering Paria and Little Colorado River flood regimes and their significance in multi-objective adaptive management strategies for Colorado River resources in Grand Canyon

Friday, 19 December 2014
Shaleen Jain1, David J. Topping2 and Theodore S. Melis2, (1)University of Maine, Orono, ME, United States, (2)USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Southwest Biological Science Center, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Planning and decision processes in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) strive to balance numerous, often competing, objectives, such as, water supply, hydropower generation, low flow maintenance, sandbars, recreational trout angling, endangered native fish, whitewater rafting, and other sociocultural resources of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. In this context, use of monitored and predictive information on warm-season Paria River floods (JUL-OCT, at point-to-regional scales) has been identified as lead information for a new 10-year long controlled flooding experiment (termed the High-Flow Experiment Protocol) intended to determine management options for rebuilding and maintaining sandbars below Glen Canyon Dam; an adaptive strategy that can potentially facilitate improved planning and dam operations. In this work, we focus on a key concern identified by the GCDAMP, related to the timing and volume of warm season tributary sand input from the Paria River into the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. The Little Colorado River is an important secondary source of sand inputs to Grand Canyon, but its lower segment is also critical spawning habitat for the endangered humpback chub. Fish biologists have reported increased abundance of chub juveniles in this key tributary in summers following cool-season flooding (DEC-FEB), but little is known about chub spawning substrates and behavior or the role that flood frequency in this tributary may play in native fish population dynamics in Grand Canyon. Episodic and intraseasonal variations (with links to equatorial and sub-tropical Pacific sea surface temperature variability) in southwest hydroclimatology are investigated to understand the magnitude, timing and spatial scales of warm- and cool-season floods from these two important tributaries of the semi-arid Colorado Plateau. Coupled variations of floods (magnitude and timing) from these rivers are also investigated. The physical processes, including diagnosis of storms and moisture sources, are mapped alongside the planning and decision processes for the ongoing experimental flood releases from the dam which are aimed at improving sandbars and instream ecology of native fish.