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Changes in sand storage in the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park from July 2017 through June 2020

January 30, 2024

Changes in the quantity of sand stored within river segments can affect aquatic and riparian habitat, archeological resources, and recreation. Since summer to fall of 2002, gaging stations on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park and on its major tributaries and selected lesser tributaries have measured the mass of sand transported past each station, which allows for changes in the mass of sand stored between gaging stations to be calculated. Sand mass balances on six Colorado River segments are currently measured; the upstream two segments measure sand mass balance in Marble Canyon, the middle three segments measure sand mass balance within the majority of Grand Canyon, and the downstream-most segment—western Grand Canyon and the Lake Mead delta—measures the quantity of sand transported past Diamond Creek and ultimately deposited in Lake Mead.

Between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2020, the amount of sand stored in the Colorado River in Marble Canyon decreased, whereas the sand mass balance in Grand Canyon was indeterminate. Of the 3 years of study presented herein, sand was eroded from Marble Canyon during sediment year 2018 (July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018), a year with less than 40 percent of the 2003–2020 mean Paria River sand input, and sediment year 2020 (July 1, 2019–June 30, 2020), a year with negligible Paria River sand input. During sediment year 2018, when the Little Colorado River supplied negligible sand, sand was also eroded from Grand Canyon. The sand mass balance was indeterminate for Grand Canyon during sediment year 2020. During sediment year 2019 (July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019) sand accumulated in both Marble Canyon and Grand Canyon. This sediment year had sand inputs from both the Paria River and the Little Colorado River of more than 170 percent the 2003–2020 mean, coupled with below post-1964 mean discharge from Glen Canyon Dam.

Publication Year 2024
Title Changes in sand storage in the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park from July 2017 through June 2020
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231093
Authors Ronald E. Griffiths, David J. Topping, Joel A. Unema
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1093
Index ID ofr20231093
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Arizona Water Science Center; Southwest Biological Science Center