Protecting the Colorado River

In so many ways, Americans’ direct experience with the Colorado River comes through their connection with its national parks. There are nine national park units that are literally defined by the Colorado River and whose protection, as required by law, is dependent on compatible river management. Those units include Arches National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

NPCA has completed an assessment detailing the impacts of managing the natural and cultural resources of national parks along the Colorado River corridor. The project describes the history of Colorado River management, traces the profound impact management has had on park ecosystems and cultural resources, and further evaluates how to protect national park resources that are affected by water delivery, flood control, and hydro-power generation. Current data indicate that dams on the Colorado River system pose serious problems to the natural and cultural resources of some of America’s best-known national parks. These impacts include loss of habitat for native fish and wildlife, invasion of non-native vegetation, loss of archaeological sites and cultural resources, and erosion of river sandbars. The report also illustrates that these parks contribute substantially to the social and economic stability of local communities throughout the basin. The completed report is available at www.npca.org/about-us/center-for-park-research/colorado_river_basin/.

The report serves as the foundation for NPCA’s newly formed Colorado River Program, an ambitious project that advocates for basin-wide river management reform of the Colorado River basin. The foundation of this program is fact-based advocacy and engagement with a variety of organizations including environmental partners, state and federal agencies and legislators, municipal water providers, and local constituencies engaged in water-policy discussions. Program goals include:

  • Working with the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and other partners to advocate for and encourage proactive measures for long-term restoration and protection of park lands.
  • Establishment of a strong and varied stakeholder constituency that advocates for improved, holistic basin-wide river management reform.
  • Development of a basin-wide strategy and communications plan that will work to restrict river diversions and protect fragile ecosystems and cultural resources.

Through this expanding collaboration, we seek to reinforce the need to view national park units as part of larger landscapes and ecosystems that require collaboration among disparate stakeholders. We believe that by highlighting the profound impact river management and continued diversion has on our national parks—places that are both beloved for their beauty and valued for their economic leverage—we can engage a diverse, non-traditional network of voices who will advocate to save the Colorado River.

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