In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers.
The ban on less-than-one gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park's "waste stream" and 30 percent of its recyclables.
The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff.
Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011. The policy permitted parks to eliminate in-park sales following an analysis and approval by the park’s regional director.
The analysis required elaborate assessments that included a review of the amount of waste that could be eliminated from the park; the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and consultation with the Park Service's Public Health Office. The analysis also dictated the consideration of "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors could find water filling stations.
Before the recent decision, agency spokesman David Barna had told the Traveler, “Jon Jarvis wants to get rid of water bottles in parks. That’s the goal. We want to do this. The issue with Grand Canyon is it’s such a big park and it sets such a big precedent."
In banning the bottles, Regional Director Wessels said, “Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability. Grand Canyon National Park has provided an excellent analysis of the impacts the elimination of bottled water would have, and has developed a well-thought-out plan for ensuring that the safety, needs and comfort of visitors continue to be met in the park. I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public.”
Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said, “We want to minimize both the monetary and environmental costs associated with water packaged in disposable containers. We are grateful to the Director for recognizing the need for service-wide guidance on this issue and for providing a thoughtful range of options.”
“A lot of careful thought went into this plan and its implementation,” said Director Jarvis. “I applaud Grand Canyon National Park for its efforts to reduce waste and the environmental impacts created by individually packaged water. This is another example of the National Park Service’s commitment to being an exemplar of the ways we can all reduce our imprint on the land as we embrace sustainable practices that will protect the parks for generations to come.”
Last year, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of a bottled water ban. They wanted to consider how a ban might affect the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands. Officials also noted that Grand Canyon National Park has experienced increasing amounts of litter associated with disposable plastic bottles along trails both on the rim and within the inner canyon, marring canyon viewpoints and visitor experiences.
Operations in at least two parks, Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes, already have bottle bans in place. At Hawaii Volcanoes, where the cooperating association decided to stop selling disposable bottles, the association estimated it will gross $80,000 a year in reusable bottle sales and will net a profit. At Zion, concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which came up with the idea of banning disposable water bottle sales, lost $25,000 in 2009-10, according to the memo. However, the move at Zion reduced the waste stream by roughly 5,000 pounds annually and cut energy consumption in the visitor center by about 10 percent during 2009-2010.