Southwest Biological Science Center

U.S. Geological Survey
Fact Sheet 2007-3020
version 1.0

Research Furthers Conservation of Grand Canyon Sandbars

By Theodore S. Melis, David J. Topping, David M. Rubin, and Scott A. Wright


Photo of rafters floating on the river with cliffs in the background


Grand Canyon National Park lies approximately 25 km (15 mi) down-river from Glen Canyon Dam, which was built on the Colorado River just south of the Arizona-Utah border in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Before the dam began to regulate the Colorado River in 1963, the river carried such large quantities of red sediment, for which the Southwest is famous, that the Spanish named the river the Rio Colorado, or “red river.” Today, the Colorado River usually runs clear below Glen Canyon Dam because the dam nearly eliminates the main-channel sand supply. The daily and seasonal flows of the river were also altered by the dam. These changes have disrupted the sedimentary processes that create and maintain Grand Canyon sandbars. Throughout Grand Canyon, sandbars create habitat for native plants and animals, supply camping beaches for river runners and hikers, and provide sediment needed to protect archaeological resources from weathering and erosion.

Maintenance of sandbars in the Colorado River ecosystem, the river corridor that stretches from the dam to the western boundary of Grand Canyon National Park, is a goal of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The program is a federally authorized initiative to ensure that the mandates of the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 are met through advances in information and resource management. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center has responsibility for scientific monitoring and research efforts for the program. Extensive research and monitoring during the past decade have resulted in the identification of possible alternatives for operating Glen Canyon Dam that hold new potential for the conservation of sand resources.

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