Planned flooding and Colorado River riparian trade-offs downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona

Lawrence E. Stevens, Tina J. Ayers, Jeffery B. Bennett, Kerry Christensen, Michael J.C. Kearsley, Vicky J. Meretsky, Arthur M. Phillips, Roderic A. Parnell, John Spence, Mark K. Sogge, Abraham E. Springer, David L. Wegner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Regulated river restoration through planned flooding involves trade-offs between aquatic and terrestrial components, between relict pre-dam and novel post-dam resources and processes, and between management of individual resources and ecosystem characteristics. We review the terrestrial (wetland and riparian) impacts of a 1274 m3/s test flood conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in March/April 1996, which was designed to improve understanding of sediment transport and management downstream from Glen Canyon Dam in the Colorado River ecosystem. The test flood successfully restored sandbars throughout the river corridor and was timed to prevent direct impacts to species of concern. A total of 1275 endangered Kanab ambersnail (Oxyloma haydeni kanabensis) were translocated above the flood zone at Vaseys Paradise spring, and an estimated 10.7% of the total snail habitat and 7.7% of the total snail population were lost to the flood. The test flood scoured channel margin wetlands, including potential foraging habitats of endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus). It also buried ground-covering riparian vegetation under >1 m of fine sand but only slightly altered woody sandbar vegetation and some return-current channel marshes. Pre-flood control efforts and appropriate flood timing limited recruitment of four common nonnative perennial plant species. Slight impacts on ethnobotanical resources were detected >430 km downstream, but those plant assemblages recovered rapidly. Careful design of planned flood hydrograph shape and seasonal timing is required to mitigate terrestrial impacts during efforts to restore essential fluvial geomorphic and aquatic habitats in regulated river ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)701-710
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Colorado River
  • Endangered species
  • Glen Canyon Dam
  • Grand Canyon
  • Kanab ambersnail (Oxyloma haydeni kanabensis)
  • Planned flooding
  • Regulated river
  • Restoration
  • Riparian ecology
  • River ecosystem
  • Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima)
  • Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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