University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 3/1996
UD geologist assists in historic flooding

     James E. Pizzuto, associate professor of geology, visited
the Grand Canyon in April, but, he wasn't there as a typical
tourist. Pizzuto was a key member of the 200-person scientific
team that undertook an historic, planned flooding of the Canyon.
For the first time ever, massive volumes of water were used for
environmental restoration instead of irrigation or power
     "In the river business, there has never been anything done
like this," Pizzuto says of the U.S. government-funded
experiment, which was 15 years and $60 million research dollars
in the making. "This will have a major impact on our most famous
national park."
     The experiment's primary purpose was to protect cultural and
environmental resources and revitalize backwater habitats of the
Colorado River. Additional objectives were the redeposition of
sand bars at higher elevations, the preservation and restoration
of camping beaches, the reduction of near-shore vegetation and
improved safety.
     "The flooding was an attempt to allow the Grand Canyon's
ecosystem to more closely resemble its natural state," Pizzuto
     Pizzuto's specific area of work, on the experiment's
"boulder transport team," included measuring, mapping and
surveying 60 large boulders that were to be transported along the
canyon by the flood waters. These boulders, considered dangerous
to rafters on the Colorado River, were supposed to be deposited
in safer locations via the force of 117 billion gallons of water.
Pizzuto described the flooding, which he witnessed from nearby
Glen Canyon Dam, as "awesome."
     Instruments used by the team indicated that the boulders
moved one-half mile to the bottom of the rapids, Pizzuto says,
proving that the team could determine when the boulders will move
and where they will go. The team's goal, however, is to use
another flood to move the boulders to a pool downstream, making
the rapids safer for rafting enthusiasts.
     The seven-day flooding, from late March until early April,
was followed closely and covered by the PBS television network.
The Tucson PBS affiliate, which sent crews to the Grand Canyon to
cover the experiment's proceedings, will feature the events in an
upcoming broadcast.
     Courses Pizzuto teaches at the University also are
benefiting from his Grand Canyon experience. "The experiment has
generated a lot of ideas for me to work with my students," he
says, specifically pointing to a discussion of environmental
restoration of rivers.
     The experiment's success may lead to other engineered floods
in the future, Pizzuto says. "This has produced unprecedented
data. Other experiments may happen as a result of the Grand
Canyon flooding."
                                   -Jaret Lyons, Delaware '96