Monitoring and Research of the Colorado River Ecosystem: When Is Enough Enough?

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:55 PM
John C Schmidt, US Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ, United States; Utah State University, Logan, UT, United States
The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) is a well-funded (~$10 million/yr.) river rehabilitation program with long-term monitoring and research focused on 400 km of the Colorado River in Glen, Marble, and Grand Canyons downstream from Lake Powell. More than 15 years of substantive science concerning hydrology, hydraulics, sediment transport, geomorphology, aquatic and fish ecology, riparian ecology, and socio-economics has yielded significant insights that guide experimental river management initiatives, such as a new protocol to annually release sediment-triggered controlled floods; administratively called the High Flow Experimental Protocol (HFEP). Implementation of the HFEP requires nearly real-time monitoring of sediment delivery from key sand producing tributaries, transport in and calculation of sand mass balance in segments of the Colorado River, and defined uncertainty of those processes and conditions (see: http://www.gcmrc.gov/). The HFEP aims to rebuild sandbars within the active channel, but many stakeholders remain focused on other aquatic ecosystem, riparian ecosystem, archaeological resources, or cultural values that are linked in complex ways to active channel conditions. Tension exists within the GCDAMP about how funding is allocated for innovative data collection, analysis, and publication strategies that allow implementation of the HFEP, and to also measure derivative resource conditions about which some stakeholders have concern. Monitoring and research initiatives that attempt to incorporate traditional cultural values also have high uncertainty when resource condition is linked with the simple implementation paradigm of the HFEP. Thus, the GCDAMP is faced with the complex challenge of allocating sufficient resources to monitor active channel processes and characteristics, resolve remaining scientific uncertainties, and develop new strategies for incorporating science insights into engineering and policy decisions, while also monitoring terrestrial resources supported by stakeholders but only indirectly linked with dam operations. The challenge of balancing these scientific and adaptive management objectives is substantial.