Did you know that August is National Water Quality Month?
It makes a lot of sense to draw attention to the importance of having clean water during a month when people are enjoying rivers, lakes, and oceans across the country.
Waterways in and around national parks provide some of the best recreational opportunities — whether you’re boating on Lake Powell at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, viewing the sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, snorkeling at Biscayne National Park, or fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.
Unfortunately, 207 of our 397 national parks — 52 percent — have waterways that are considered “impaired” under the Clean Water Act, meaning they do not meet appropriate water quality standards. The most common reasons why they fail to meet the standards include high levels of pathogens, mercury, heavy metals, nutrients, and sediment. For national parks, most of these pollutants are the result of activities happening beyond park boundaries, often from upstream or airborne contaminants.
The National Park Service, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, monitors water quality data and keeps general information such as acres of lakes, miles of streams, and even the number of waterfalls within and adjacent to each national park. They also keep track of the health of these many bodies of water. The Park Service makes all of this data publicly available so you can learn more about their efforts. You can also delve into the details on the different kinds of waterways in and around your favorite parks, including how much of this water is degraded or impaired by looking up the details.
Fortunately, identifying a waterway as impaired allows states to start more proactive pollution reduction measures, helping to reverse the damage. For example, the state of Florida is working on a plan that will store and treat water for longer periods before it flows south to Everglades National Park from Lake Okeechobee, thereby reducing the amount of phosphorus and other pollutants that enter the park from upstream agricultural areas.
NPCA works to protect and restore the waterways in and around national parks because healthy parks depend on healthy waters. As we celebrate National Water Quality Month, rest assured that as you are enjoying these late summer days on a national park waterway that NPCA is working across the country to ensure that the rivers, lakes, and oceans are in the best conditions possible.
About the author
Sarah Gaines Barmeyer Deputy Vice President, Conservation Programs
Sarah Barmeyer is senior managing director for NPCA’s Conservation Programs where she coordinates priority initiatives for water restoration, landscape conservation, wildlife, and clean air.