Washington, DC — The Interior Department is offering an exclusive arrangement to a network television show to showcase a controversial one-time flush of the Grand Canyon, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Interior hopes to drown out sharp dissent from both the Grand Canyon National Park and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that the “high-flow experiment” slated for tomorrow, March 4th, may do more harm than good.
Under the arrangement with the NBC “Today” show, a film crew will be given seats on rafts otherwise reserved for agency scientists and managers. Late last week, one Interior official underlined the perceived publicity coup:
“…just let us know what you want and we will make it happen. DOI [Department of Interior] deserves to be in the spotlight on this event – it is a tribute to the Department’s commitment to scientific understanding as the best possible route to managing and protecting our Nation’s resources.”
In fact, Interior’s top specialists feel that the experiment is a triumph of politics over science. The concern is not with the 60-hour high flow experiment itself but the condition imposed by Interior that no further high-flow flushes of the Grand Canyon occur for another five years. Thus, whatever biological benefit gained from a single surge is lost if not repeated and flows do not return to a more natural pattern.
In a February 19, 2008 letter, the Superintendent of the Grand Canyon, Steve Martin, issued a withering critique of the Interior plan, citing “significant impairment” of park resources. Two years earlier, the Fish & Wildlife Service, another arm of Interior, gave the same advice but it was ignored in forming the plan.
“While the Interior Department’s craving for any favorable media coverage is understandable, they should earn it with actual good stewardship rather than from offering some splashy footage,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is unlikely that the ‘Today’ show producers want a story layered with conflict and complexity for their early morning viewers.”
For the past 45 years, since the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado River flow through the Grand Canyon has been artificially regulated, primarily for power generation. The absence of periodic high flows has allowed sediment to build up in ways that limit habitat for canyon fish. Prior high-flow experiments have already shown the potential value of such surges. The unresolved issue is whether the Colorado River should be allowed to return to a more natural ebb and flow rhythm.
Exclusive arrangement between government agencies and the media are controversial because the government agency can shape coverage by limiting access to what is public information. In this case, however, it was the “Today” show that demanded exclusivity for the trip down river. Subsequently, other TV crews have been offered trips upriver to the Glen Canyon Dam.
“This so-called experiment ignores the results of a decade worth of research obtained with more than $80 million tax dollars,” Ruch added. “This week’s high-flow stunt is nothing but a green wash to mask another betrayal of the Grand Canyon by its political custodians.”