Primary Areas of Research and Adaptive Management Actions

From 1983 to 1989, Glen Canyon Environmental Studies Phase One (GCES I) established a baseline for determining the effects of Glen Canyon Dam operations on downstream resources. GCES II (1989-1996) explored possibilities for mitigating those effects with modifications to dam operations. GCES research laid the foundation for the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement on Glen Canyon Dam Operations and, ultimately, GCDAMP. The research and monitoring efforts that underpin GCDAMP, and the adaptive management actions that have been implemented, continually expand understanding of downstream impacts and the efficacy of dam operations modifications.

The primary areas of research and action in the GCDAMP have tended to focus on resources that have special additional legal protections such as endangered species and archeological sites. Additionally, resources of particular interest to recreationists, such as camping beaches along the Colorado River and the Blue Ribbon trout fishery, have also received substantial research attention. Because the purpose of the program is to make recommendations about how to modify dam operations to help mitigate the environmental and social impacts of Glen Canyon Dam, a great deal of research has also focused on how dam operations have influenced downstream resources and how alterations to those operations might impact the river, its riparian ecology, fish resources, archeological sites, and river runners.
Major categories of GCDAMP research include:

  • BIOLOGY/ECOLOGY: Research on rare and endangered native fish, particularly the humpback chub, has been the leading topic of biological research. Other biotic research has included studies of non-native fish, especially sport fish like trout, riparian vegetation (native and invasive), and aquatic food base studies. Many of these other studies also have implications for humpback chub. There has been a lot of research effort focused on ecosystem modeling and anticipating ecosystem responses to unpredictable and uncontrollable variables.
  • SEDIMENT TRANSPORT AND RIVER GEOMORPHOLOGY studies, with a focus on sandbars, which serve as camping beaches and influence micro-environments that provide habitat for native fish. Sediment also affects cultural resources, an area of study especially important to tribal GCDAMP participants.
  • CULTURAL RESOURCES: Indigenous occupation and use of Grand Canyon has been the focus of most cultural resource studies, including inventories of archeological sites and traditional cultural properties, along with threats to the preservation of those resources.
  • RECREATION: socioeconomic studies of recreational use and visitor values have dominated this category of research, although it has received much less attention than studies of fish and sediment within GCDAMP.
  • ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT: Because this program embraced the experimental new philosophy of “Adaptive Management” in its original charter, there have been quite a few studies addressing what Adaptive Management means, how it might be applied in Grand Canyon, its opportunity and limits, and whether it has been successful as applied in the GCDAMP so far. Studies have analyzed adaptive management policy and governance, stakeholder dynamics, the role of collaboration and consensus, and the effects of management experiments.
  • HIGH-FLOW EXPERIMENTS: Perhaps the best known GCDAMP management action is the High Flow Experiment (HFE) program. HFEs are impressive, but GCDAMP has implemented a wide variety of experimental flow regimes meant to influence sediment transport, river temperature, native species habitat, and food ecology.