Colorado River Basin Study: Where Do National Parks Fit In?

Seldom Seen Smith has to be rolling his eyes, and George Hayduke just might be thinking of calling the Monkey Wrench Gang back together. Why? A voluminous Interior Department report looking at how best to manage precious water resources in the Colorado River Basin largely ignores national parks the river flows through.

Aside from passing mention in a list of parks, wildlife refuges, tribes, and national recreation areas for which the river is the "lifeblood," the voluminous report fails to discuss the value of the river to those 11 national parks, four NRAs, and seven wildlife refuges or outline how their water rights should be preserved.

"We are disappointed and concerned that the National Park Service and the resources of our national parks did not have a consistent voice or visible presence in the study," said David Nimkin, Southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The national parks within the Colorado River basin are not only iconic parklands, they are also significant economic engines for the region. The successful protection of nine national parks and national recreation areas is greatly dependent on compatible river management."

With headwaters in Wyoming and Colorado (inside Rocky Mountain National Park), the Colorado Basin counts seven states where nearly 40 million people rely on its water. The Green and Colorado rivers also flow through or past Dinosaur National Monument, Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti Natioanl Recreation Area, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The two rivers provide habitat for four species of endangered fish (Bonytail, Humpback chub, Colorado Pikeminnow, and Razorback sucker), fuel a rich recreational industry revolving around river running, pleasure boating, and fishing. Too, the river corridors are vaults of prehistoric and historic artifacts, as well as paleontological remains, that tell rich stories.

How river flows are managed are integral to those industries and resources. Yet, according to NPCA officials, the Interior Department report gives them short shrift.

"There is no visibile evidence of how the parks are incorporated into the documents themself," said Meghan Trubee, Colorado River program manager for NPCA. "Park resources aren’t really included in the metrics they use to analayze" the basin.

“I’m not clear why the parks did not play a more prominent role in the basin study. It seems to me a glaring omisson. It’s disappointing, and it's concerning," Ms. Trubee continued. "Obviously, we have some pretty major water woes in the Colorado basin, and these national parks bring so much back to our local econonies, just being these wonders of nature. It’s just really an unfortunate thing.”