Summary report of responses of key resources to the 2000 Low Steady Summer Flow experiment, along the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona

Open-File Report 2011-1220




In the spring and summer of 2000, a series of steady discharges of water from Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River were used to evaluate the effects of aquatic habitat stability and water temperatures on native fish growth and survival, with a special focus on the endangered humpback chub (Gila cypha), downstream from the dam in Grand Canyon. The steady releases were bracketed by peak powerplant releases in late-May and early-September. The duration and volume of releases from the dam varied between spring and summer. The intent of the experimental hydrograph was to mimic predam river discharge patterns by including a high, steady discharge in the spring and a low, steady discharge in the summer. The hydrologic experiment was called the Low Steady Summer Flow (LSSF) experiment because steady discharges of 226 m3/s dominated the hydrograph for 4 months from June through September 2000. The experimental hydrograph was developed in response to one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Recommended and Prudent Alternatives (RPA) in its Biological Opinion of the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam Final Environmental Impact Statement. The RPA focused on the hypothesis that seasonally adjusted steady flows were dam operations that might benefit humpback chub more than the Record of Decision operations, known as Modified Low Fluctuating Flow (MLFF) operations. Condensed timelines between planning and implementation (2 months) of the experiment and the time required for logistics, purchasing, and contracting resulted in limited data collection during the high-release part of the experiment that occurred in spring. The LSSF experiment is the longest planned hydrograph that departed from the MLFF operations since Record of Decision operations began in 1996. As part of the experiment, several studies focused on the responses of physical properties related to environments that young-of-year (YOY) native fish might occupy (for example, measuring mainstem and shoreline water temperature, and quantifying useable shorelines). The part of the hydrograph that included a habitat maintenance flow (a 4-day spike at a powerplant capacity of 877 m3/s) and sustained high releases in April and May (averaging 509 m3/s) resulted in sediment export to Lake Mead, the reservoir downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, which is outside the study area. Some mid-elevation sandbar building (between 566 and 877 m3/s stage elevations) occurred from existing sediment deposits rather than from sediment inputs from tributaries during the previous winter. Low releases in the summer combined with low tributary sediment inputs resulted in minor sediment accumulation in the study area. The September habitat maintenance flow reworked accumulated sediment and resulted in increases in the area of some backwaters. The mainstem water temperatures in the reach near the Little Colorado River during the LSSF experiment varied little from previous years. Mainstem water temperatures in western Grand Canyon average 17 to 20 degrees C. During the LSSF, backwaters warmed more than other shoreline environments during the day, but most backwaters returned to mainstem water temperatures overnight. Shoreline surface water temperatures from river mile (RM) 30 to 72 varied between 9 and 28 degrees C in the middle of the day in July. These temperatures are within the optimal temperature range for humpback chub growth and spawning, which is between 15 and 24 degrees C. How surface water temperatures transfer to subsurface water temperatures is unknown. Data collection associated with the response of fish to the 2000 LSSF hydrograph focused on fish growth and abundance along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. The target resource, humpback chub and other native fishes, did not respond in a strongly positive or strongly negative manner to the LSSF hydrograph during the sampling period, which extended from June to September 2000. In 2000, the mean total length of YOY native fishes was similar to the mean

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Summary report of responses of key resources to the 2000 Low Steady Summer Flow experiment, along the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
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Reston, VA
iv, 110 p.; Appendices
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United States