Conservation Groups File Suit to Reverse Harm to Grand Canyon’s Aquatic Habitat


PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Center for Biological Diversity, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Living Rivers, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, and Glen Canyon Institute filed suit in U.S. District Court in Arizona today against Gale Norton, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the humpback chub and the Grand Canyon. For more than a decade the Bureau of Reclamation has been required to modify the operations of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to reverse the dam’s downstream impacts on Grand Canyon’s priceless river ecosystem. These efforts have failed to produce results. The agencies are in violation of the Grand Canyon Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The agencies have neglected their responsibilities to this incredible place. Arizona’s native fish are overwhelmingly imperiled, and only four of eight native fish species continue to exist in the Grand Canyon. The humpback chub’s decline is just another example of the federal government’s complete disregard for native wildlife and the irreplaceable habitat they represent,” said Robin Silver, Board Chair of the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 1992, Congress passed the Grand Canyon Protection Act to reverse the demise of the canyon and the decline of endangered native fish species such as the humpback chub. Following the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) three years later, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program was established to guide the Bureau of Reclamation in implementing recovery guidelines set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The unsuccessful “Modified Low Fluctuating Flow Alternative” (MLFF) is the operational scheme enacted in the Adaptive Management Program which called for released flood flow events with the hope of improving habitat and restoring native fish populations.

“To date, the negative impacts of Glen Canyon Dam continue to lead to the decline of the humpback chub. Clearly the Adaptive Management program, as being implemented by the federal government, is not working,” said David Wegner, Glen Canyon Institute.

“The Grand Canyon Chapter has long worked to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, plus the species which rely on this important system,” said Sandy Bahr, Conservation Outreach Director, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter. “We have supported efforts to remove non-native fish species and previous efforts to operate the dam in such a manner as to promote recovery of the fishes and to rebuild the beaches which are also being decimated by the operation of the dam. Clearly, the federal government needs to make some changes to protect our native fishes and to protect the recreation that relies on the Canyon’s beaches.”

In October 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey released its evaluation of this program in a 220-page report, “The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon.” This report confirmed what many scientists have been saying for years: that recovery of the humpback chub is not being achieved. According to the report, “…it is clear that the restrictions on dam operations since 1991 have not produced the hoped for restoration and maintenance of this endangered species…”

“Since the Fish and Wildlife Service issued its Biological Opinion on the dam’s operations in 1994, the Bureau of Reclamation’s actions have merely made things worse,” said Living Rivers Conservation Director John Weisheit. “One more fish species is effectively extinct in the Canyon, and another is on the verge.”

Despite the ongoing detrimental effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the humpback chub, razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail chub, and the failure of the Adaptive Management Program to address those impacts, the agencies have not reinitiated consultation with USFWS and prepared a supplemental EIS as required by law.

The groups’ suit aims to protect the native fish and aquatic habitat of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River by stopping the ongoing destruction caused by the current operations of Glen Canyon Dam. The suit does not seek to decommission the dam. Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center in Colorado, represents the organizations.