PHOENIX - When federal authorities announced plans to manufacture a flood in the Grand Canyon this month to restore beaches along the Colorado River, Wendy Gunn braced for the inevitable pandemonium.
Co-owner of Lees Ferry Anglers, a river guide business catering to fishing enthusiasts, Gunn has been fielding 15 to 20 phone calls and e-mails daily in the past week from visitors worrying that a flood will mean fewer fish.
"Beneficial flood is an oxymoron. When you call it a flood, people think it's this huge wall of water," Gunn said.
The potential water flow will come from the opening of Glen Canyon Dam, upstream of the Lees Ferry fishery and the Marble Canyon area.
Gunn and her husband are members of a small community that relies on visitors to the river and the fishery at Lees Ferry. They say the publicity surrounding the proposed 60-hour water flow, which is set to begin March 5, has resulted in some canceling or questioning of trips in the days following the event. With fewer people calling to reserve guides and lodging, there is an unknown financial loss, too.
"I've been able to ease people's minds about it but still ... how many people won't book and won't call - that I just don't know about. I can't imagine how that hurts our business," Gunn said.
When all nine guides are working, there are generally about 200 bookings a month. The company currently has 118 for March. With guides not going out during the flooding, which will stretch from Wednesday into midday Saturday, most of the weekend will be lost. That's a loss of $425 a day for each guide, Gunn said. The company's hotel, restaurant and boat rentals also would suffer.
"Every one of the businesses in Marble Canyon strongly opposed the timing of this," said Gunn's husband, Terry, co-owner and a guide. "This is right in the beginning of the high season. It's sort of like asking retailers to close a week before Christmas."
Barbara Foster, whose husband, Dave, owns Marble Canyon Outfitters, a flyfishing guide business near Lees Ferry, said the company's March bookings are half of what they were at the same time last year. But she conceded some of that may be because of the economy. The couple say most of their regular patrons haven't shown any knee-jerk reaction to the planned flooding.
"A lot of them are familiar about the rhetoric so they just don't come," Foster said.
The release of water from the Glen Canyon Dam upstream of the canyon is designed to scour sand from the bed of the Colorado River and rebuild beaches that support wildlife and are used for camping by rafters. Bigger sandbars also provide habitat for endangered native fish and will protect archaeological sites, according to the Interior Department.
John Hamill, a U.S. Geological Survey spokesman, said there will be a gradual rise in water depth that won't be that dramatic. The flow would rise from 13,000 to 40,000 cubic feet per second over a day-and-a-half. It would then return to normal two days later. At Lees Ferry, the elevation change in the river would be close to four feet.
Rory Aikens, Arizona Game & Fish Department spokesman, said making a trip out to Lees Ferry would still be worthwhile. The high flow would have a short-lived impact on fish behavior and activity.
"To me, it's adding another dynamic element up there in the ferry. I want to be up there for that. If you have to figure out a new path, what fun," Aikens said. "It's like figuring out a little mystery."
In November, about 15 business owners representing guides, sport fishermen, restaurants, motels and tackleshops met with various state and federal agencies about the flooding plans. Gunn said she is skeptical about how much weight their concerns carry.
Sam Spiller, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife spokesman who was at the same meeting, said he wants to ensure recreational fishing interests at Lees Ferry are considered when it comes to future high flow tests.
He also recommended that the Bureau of Reclamation hold workshops to address issues like respawning and recovery from a flood.
Doug Hendrix, a Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, said officials have to take into account biological and scientific factors first. But they do consider the fallout for local businesses.
"Whether it's fly fishers or blue-ribbon trout fishers ... we try to involve the gamut of public and nonprofit or private organization that would be impacted by these actions," Hendrix said."
Similar experiments with the dam were done in 1996 and 2004. Gunn said in the past, fish have actually been plentiful immediately after a high water flow.
"Fishing is really good for the first few days but then it just nosedives," Gunn said. "We'll definitely take some cancellations but we're hopeful that won't happen."