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Science and Values in River Restoration in the Grand Canyon

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Restoration of riverine ecosystems is often stated as a management objective for regulated rivers, and floods are one of the most effective tools for accomplishing restoration. The National Re- search

Restoration of riverine ecosystems is often stated as a management objective for regulated rivers, and floods are one of the most effective tools for accomplishing restoration. The National Re- search Council (NRC 1992) argued that ecological restoration means re- turning "an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance" and that "restoring altered, damaged, O f destroyed lakes, rivers, and wetlands is a high-priority task." Effective restoration must be based on a clear definition of the value of riverine resources to society; on scientific studies that document ecosystem status and provide an understanding of ecosystem processes and resource interactions; on scientific studies that predict, mea- sure, and monitor the effectiveness of restoration techniques; and on engineering and economic studies that evaluate societal costs and benefits of restoration.

In the case of some large rivers, restoration is not a self-evident goal. Indeed, restoration may be impossible; a more feasible goal may be rehabilitation of some ecosystem components and processes in parts of the river (Gore and Shields 1995, Kondolfand Wilcock 1996, Stanford et al. 1996). In other cases, the appropriate decision may be to do nothing. The decision to manipulate ecosystem processes and components involves not only a scientific judgment that a restored or rehabilitated condition is achievable, but also a value judgment that this condition is more desirable than the status quo. These judgments involve prioritizing different river resources, and they should be based on extensive and continuing public debate.

In this article, we examine the appropriate role of science in determining whether or not to restore or rehabilitate the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon by summarizing studies carried out by numerous agencies, universities, and consulting firms since 1983. This reach of the Colorado extends 425 km between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead reservoir (Figure 1). Efforts to manipulate ecosystem processes and components in the Grand Canyon have received widespread public attention, such as the 1996 controlled flood released from Glen Canyon Dam and the proposal to drain Lake Powell reservoir.

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Created

Date Created
  • 1998-09

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Ecosystem Modeling for Evaluation of Adaptive Management Policies in the Grand Canyon

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An Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management workshop process was used to assist Grand Canyon scientists and managers in developing conceptual and simulation models for the Colorado ecosystem affected by Glen

An Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management workshop process was used to assist Grand Canyon scientists and managers in developing conceptual and simulation models for the Colorado ecosystem affected by Glen Canyon Dam. This model examines ecosystem variables and processes at multiple scales in space and time, ranging from feet and hours for benthic algal response to diurnal flow changes, to reaches and decades for sediment storage and dynamics of long-lived native fish species. Its aim is to help screen policy options ranging from changes in hourly variation in flow allowed from Glen Canyon Dam, to major structural changes for restoration of more natural temperature regimes. It appears that we can make fairly accurate predictions about some components of ecosystem response to policy change (e.g., autochthonous primary production, insect communities, riparian vegetation, rainbow trout population), but we are moderately or grossly uncertain about others (e.g., long-term sediment storage, response of native and non-native fishes to physical habitat restoration). Further, we do not believe that existing monitoring programs are adequate to detect responses of native fishes or vegetation to anything short of gross habitat changes. Some experimental manipulations (such as controlled floods for beach/habitat- building) should proceed, but most should await development of better monitoring programs and sound temporal baseline information from those programs.

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Created

Date Created
  • 2000-12