Blog Post Chad Lord Mar 22, 2012

Protecting Our Great Waters

More than two-thirds of all national park units are located in Great Waters watersheds, and the ways we use the land around national parks impacts the quality and quantity of water in national parks.

Today is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to the importance of freshwater.

Water drives regional economies, sustains the natural world, and shapes the daily lives of people all across the globe. Water is not just key to our survival, it’s central to our memory and imagination. However, our own nation has not adequately prioritized protecting important aquatic ecosystems—or, as NPCA calls them, our Great Waters—which stretch from the Great Lakes to the Everglades to the Chesapeake Bay to the Puget Sound. As a result, degraded water quality, invasive species, altered water flows, climate change, and loss of habitat have taken their toll on our natural and cultural landscapes.

Clean water is vital for our national parks and their millions of visitors. Water in its myriad forms—seeps, springs, wetlands, aquifers, geysers, streams, lakes, and oceans—is fundamental to the plants and wildlife people find when visiting national parks from Acadia to Death Valley, Everglades to Wrangell-St. Elias. From deserts to rainforests, wetlands to glaciers, water is central to all that is preserved and experienced in our national parks.

The health and availability of water, however, is inextricably linked to what happens on the land. More than two-thirds of all national park units are located in Great Waters watersheds, and the ways we use the land around national parks (including agriculture and urban development) impacts the quality and quantity of water in national parks. Protecting water in and around parks is about restoring and protecting the land around America’s treasured places.

NPCA is engaged in landscape conservation and restoration work all over the country. National parks are the heart of larger ecosystems, and the health of parks is dependent on the health of the larger area.

Although NPCA is making progress with land and water restoration efforts in many areas, parks are hampered by a lack of funding, broken federal water policies, and limited political will. For example, in South Florida, NPCA successfully lobbied to bridge a portion of a road near Everglades National Park known as the Tamiami Trail, eliminating a dam and allowing water to flow naturally underneath it. While this one-mile segment is a huge milestone, Congress has not yet funded the more significant restoration work needed to bridge five more miles of the 11-mile stretch of the trail that blocks water from reaching the park.

Some projects offer coalition support to critical watersheds. Along the Colorado River, NPCA is building a basin-wide coalition of citizens who care about the river and its adjacent parks, such as Grand Canyon and Canyonlands, to help highlight the profound impact that river management has on our parks and problems that occur when water is diverted by dams and other development. In the Great Lakes, NPCA is working with college students to restore the Great Marsh at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which will improve the quality of water flowing through Indiana Dunes and into Lake Michigan. NPCA continues to partner with communities with the goal of restoring these and other Great Waters.

Learn more about what NPCA is doing in our Great Waters, our landscape conservation efforts, and how you can get involved.

About the author

  • Chad Lord Senior Director of Environmental Policy and Climate Change, Government Affairs

    Chad Lord serves as the Senior Director for NPCA's Waters program. The program focuses on protecting and restoring America’s greatest natural treasures--large-scale aquatic ecosystems--surrounding national parks.

Read more from NPCA

  • Blog Post

    How National Parks and Monuments Are Designated

    Jul 2023 | By Linda Coutant

    Ever wondered how sites get added to the National Park System? NPCA explains the two processes used to preserve America’s lands and stories.

  • Blog Post

    5 Reasons to Care About a New Conservation Rule

    Jun 2023 | By Angela Gonzales, Kristen Brengel, Matthew Kirby

    The Bureau of Land Management is considering a meaningful shift in how it treats our public lands. NPCA supports this improved balance between conservation and other uses.

  • Blog Post

    Coastal Parks Offer Climate Solutions

    Jun 2023 | By Sarah Gaines Barmeyer

    NPCA is working to ensure coastal national parks are part of the climate solution. The more we protect national park waters from climate impacts now, the more they will protect…