Since construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, the Colorado River's volume through the Grand Canyon has been artificially set. On March 4, 2008, Interior allowed a 60-hour high flow experiment through the canyon. Both National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials expressed concern that any benefit to wildlife from a single surge would be lost if not repeated, since a more natural flow pattern is needed to lift sediment onto beaches and facilitate reproduction of endangered canyon fish.
The most outspoken has been Superintendent Steve Martin who wrote that "Based on current scientific information, lack of inclusion of additional high flows could lead to impairment of the resources of Grand Canyon National Park." This "impairment" finding makes Interior's steady flow regime legally vulnerable and has sparked an intense campaign by water users to force Martin to retract his statements.
In a March 26, 2008 letter, water officials from the five-state Upper Colorado River Commission urged Secretary Kempthorne to rein in Martin:
"[W]e have been surprised by statements by Park Service personnel, particularly Steve Martin, Superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park, regarding the high flow experimental program. Some of those statements are contradictory and inconsistent with other agencies within the Department….Mr. Martin also stated that man-made floods need to occur about once every one or two years….that newly created beaches will be eroded within one to two years….[W]e urge you to affirm that additional experiments and actions beyond the approved program, including additional high flow releases, are not contemplated at this time."
On May 20, 2008, Secretary Kempthorne wrote in reply that -
"We are well aware of the inconsistent statements referenced in your letter…These statements do not reflect the Department's unanimous final decision regarding this matter….I hope this letter, along with implementation of the Department's recent decisions, will assuage any concerns that you may have…"Prior to the March high-flow experiment, Interior papered over internal disagreements by invoking an "adaptive management" strategy that, in theory, would allow the scientific results to dictate future flows.
"A living Grand Canyon requires a living river," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "'Adaptive management' is a sham to veil a predetermined mandate to run the Colorado River for maximum power."
Adding to the political pressure is a May 15, 2008 letter to Kempthorne from 17 Republican House members, including Arizona's John Shadegg, Trent Franks and Jeff Flake, admonishing that future river management decisions must "balance any environmental benefits with the costs to power consumers in the West, particularly during a time of record-high energy prices."
Superintendent Martin is a 30-year National Park Service veteran who previously served as Deputy Director before being named Grand Canyon Superintendent in February 2007.
"Political interference with science in Interior starts at the top," Ruch added, alluding to a string of recent scientific manipulation scandals in Interior. "Removing or censoring the Grand Canyon Superintendent for defending park resources will create a firestorm that will completely consume Secretary Kempthorne's attempts to leave any positive legacy on national park issues."
Other coverage: AP/AZ Republic, 6/15