National Parks of the Colorado River Basin

Center for Park Research Report
Published April 2011


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(PDF, 5.2 MB, 76 pages)

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(PDF, 140 KB, 2 pages)

The Colorado River and its tributaries are primary water providers for arid western states with increasing water demands, including Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. A series of dams along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a major means through which water is regulated for consumption and other uses and to generate hydropower.

A report by NPCA’s Center for Park Research titled National Parks of the Colorado River Basin: Water Management, Resource Threats, and Economics identifies the effects that large dams have on natural and cultural resources in Dinosaur National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Grand Canyon National Park. The reportalso considers the economic value of national parks as well as the economic value of hydropower generated by large dams in the Colorado River Basin.

National Parks of the Colorado River Basin documents how dams in the Colorado River Basin have resulted in rivers with highly unnatural flow regimes, altered water temperatures, and disrupted sediment movement and availability. The report links these changes to their effects on national park resources—effects that range from now endangered fish populations and altered riverbank habitats to erosion at archaeological sites and changing recreational experiences.

Relevant and irreplaceable for the significant natural and cultural treasures they protect and the abundant recreational opportunities they offer, national parks in the Colorado River Basin also contribute greatly to the economies of local communities and are valued by Americans throughout the country. As shown in the Center for Park Research’s report, the preservation of national park resources must be considered in decisions on dam management. It is possible to alter dam operations to benefit park resources and ensure parks’ continued economic value without greatly compromising hydropower generation and revenues.

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