The March 2008 high-flow experiment (HFE) at Glen Canyon Dam resulted in sandbar deposition and sandbar reshaping such that the area and volume of associated backwater aquatic habitat in Grand Canyon National Park was greater following the HFE. Analysis of backwater habitat area and volume for 116 locations at 86 study sites, comparing one month before and one month after the HFE, shows that total habitat area increased by 30 percent to as much as a factor of 3 and that volume increased by 80 percent to as much as a factor of 15. These changes resulted from an increase in the area and elevation of sandbars, which isolate backwaters from the main channel, and the scour of eddy return-current channels along the bank where the habitat occurs. Because of this greater relief on the sandbars, backwaters were present across a broader range of flows following the HFE than before the experiment.
Reworking of sandbars during diurnal fluctuating flow operations in the first 6 months following the HFE caused sandbar erosion and a reduction of backwater size and abundance to conditions that were 5 to 14 percent greater than existed before the HFE. In the months following the HFE, erosion of sandbars and deposition in eddy return-current channels caused reductions of backwater area and volume. However, sandbar relief was still greater in October 2008 such that backwaters were present across a broader range of discharges than in February 2008.
Topographic analyses of the sandbar and backwater morphologic data collected in this study demonstrate that steady flows are associated with a greater amount of continuously available backwater habitat than fluctuating flows, which result in a greater amount of intermittently available habitat. With the exception of the period immediately following the HFE, backwater habitat in 2008 was greater for steady flows associated with dam operations of relatively lower monthly volume (about 227 m3/s) than steady flows associated with dam operations of higher monthly volume. Similarly, there was greater habitat availability associated with lower monthly volume fluctuating flows (post-HFE through mid-April) compared to higher monthly volume fluctuating flows (after mid-April 2008).
The sites monitored for this study represent about 20 percent of the 569 estimated number of potential sand-bounded backwaters that occur in eddies below Glen Canyon Dam in Grand Canyon National Park. Data from fish sampling in backwaters, by seining, demonstrates that both native and nonnative species were present in the backwaters monitored for this study.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
2008 High-Flow Experiment at Glen Canyon Dam-Morphologic Response of Eddy-Deposited Sandbars and Associated Aquatic Backwater Habitats along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park