Colorado’s big snowpack powers massive “pulse” of water being shot through Grand Canyon

Simulated spring flood through Colorado River will use almost as much water as Denver uses in a year

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Morning sunlight cuts through haze and shines on the Colorado River as it runs through Grand Canyon National Park on April 16, 2023, in Arizona. The flight for aerial photography was provided by LightHawk.
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

LAKE POWELL — A huge amount of the water that flows down from Colorado’s snowy mountains into the West’s depleted Lake Powell reservoir is rocketing out of pipes this week to power a massive, simulated flood through the Grand Canyon — the first one in five years to try to revitalize canyon ecosystems the way nature once did.

Federal operators of the Glen Canyon Dam atop the Grand Canyon opened jets to begin this surge before sunrise Monday, sending what they described as “a pulse” of water whooshing through the Colorado River as it curves through the base of the canyon.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said they’ll maintain the surge until Thursday evening, ensuring a flow for 72 hours at 39,500 cubic feet per second of water.

This “High Flow Experiment” will require 270,000 acre-feet of water, federal officials said — enough to sustain more than half a million households for a year. By comparison, Denver Water typically captures 290,000 acre-feet of water, or more than 94 billion gallons, from rain and snow in Colorado over an entire year for city supplies.

The water gushing out of dam jets this week normally would have flowed gradually over the month of April out of Lake Powell into the river. Eventually, the water will end up in Lake Mead, the key supply for Arizona, California and Nevada.

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