The year 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, USA. A decade of research and monitoring provides an important milestone to evaluate the effects of dam operations on resources of concern and determine whether or not the desired outcomes are being achieved, or if they are even compatible with one another or not. A comprehensive effort was undertaken to assess the scientific state of knowledge of resources of concern, as identified in the EIS. The result was the first systematic attempt by scientists to conduct an assessment of the changing state of Colorado River ecosystem resources in Grand Canyon over a decadal timeframe. In the EIS, 30 resource attributes are listed along with predictions for how those resources would respond under the Secretary of the Interior’s 1996 Record of Decision, an operating prescription based on the preferred alternative of Modified Low-Fluctuating Flows (MLFF).
Because of a lack of data or subsequent analyses to confirm whether some predictions stated in the EIS were correct, or not, 14 or 47 percent of the outcomes, are essentially unknown. Excluding outcomes that are unclear, then the remaining predictions in the EIS were correct in 7 out of 16 outcomes, or 44 percent of the categories listed. Mixed outcomes occur in 4 out of 16, or 25 percent of the categories, and failed predictions, occur in 5 out of 16, or 31 percent of the categories. As such, less than 50 percent of the outcomes were predicted correctly, underscoring the uncertainties associated with working in a large complex system with few to no long-term data sets. Similar uncertainties are faced by all resource managers charged with ecosystem restoration globally. The acceptability of this kind of uncertainty is influenced by interpretation, societal values, agency missions and mandates, and other factors. However, failure to correctly predict the future, in and of itself, is not deleterious under the paradigm of adaptive management where large uncertainties provide opportunities for learning and adjustment through an iterative process of “learning-by- doing” (Walters and Holling, 1990). Although recent science has documented a continued decline of environmental resources of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, it has also identified options that might still be implemented by managers to achieved desired future conditions in Grand Canyon.
- The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon: Lessons From 10 Years of Adaptive Ecosystem Management