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Park waters imperiled, NPCA report finds.

From spectacular geysers and rivers that carve great canyons to quiet lakes and the tiny springs that sustain desert life, water is a central part of the scenery and ecology of national parks.

But it is an extremely vulnerable part, according to a new NPCA report, "Park Waters in Peril." The report identifies serious threats such as dams and pollution and outlines the problems the National Park Service and others confront in addressing these threats. It also makes extensive recommendations for improving protection of park waters.

"The reason park waters are in jeopardy is simple," said Terri Martin, NPCA Rocky Mountain regional director and co-author of the report. "They are inseparably linked to watersheds and natural systems that transcend park boundaries. Our use and abuse of water outside parks is inevitably transmitted to waters within our parks."

Perhaps the best-known example is the system of canals and levees that drained swampy southern Florida and, in doing so, cut off the natural flow of water to Everglades National Park.

Other parks are jeopardized by growing industrial, agricultural, and residential appetites for water. The city of Las Vegas hopes to withdraw enormous quantities of groundwater from all over Nevada. The groundwater pumping could seriously deplete the aquifer that underlies Death Valley National Monument, drying up the springs and seeps on which bobcats, bighorn sheep, and the endangered Devils Hole pupfish depend for survival.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma is known for its mineral and freshwater springs. But groundwater pumping and nearby wells may have caused many springs to cease flowing.

Upstream dams proposed near Zion National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, both in Utah, would arrest the flow of rivers that have carved the parks' dramatic canyons. Operation of the Flaming Gorge Dam, upstream from Dinosaur on the Green River, has washed out riverbanks, eliminated populations of endangered fish, and jeopardized river rafters.

Pollution from a wide range of sources has also seriously damaged park waters. The most dramatic example is the Exxon Valdez spill, which soiled the coastlines of three Alaskan parks.

More often, the problem is subtler. Extensive logging on the lands surrounding Olympic National Park in Washington has caused erosion into the park's streams. Sediment from nearby development and agriculture wash into the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in Minnesota and the extensive wetlands of Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia. The St. Croix is also polluted with pesticides used by the area's commercial cranberry growers. Colonial's wildlife tested positive for exposure to toxic Kepone after it was dumped illegally in massive quantities into the nearby James River from 1966 to 1975. Streams and lakes in Acadia National Park in Maine suffer lowered pH levels from acid rain.

Mining in and around parks poses a particular risk. Acids and heavy metals from an abandoned Montana mine washed for years into a creek flowing into Yellowstone. The pristine lands and waters of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska are threatened by mining claims that dot the park.

The report highlights the inadequacy of existing legal, institutional, and scientific tools to address such threats and makes extensive recommendations for strengthening them. It urges Congress to re-affirm and ensure parks' legal right to the water necessary for their ecological health. It calls for notification and consultation with the Park Service when actions on watershed lands could affect park waters. It recommends prohibiting any federally assisted activity--including dams and water diversions--that could harm park waters. The report stresses the need for improved and adequately funded study and monitoring programs so that threats can be identified early and damage avoided.

Other recommendations include: * strengthening the Clean Water Act to make clear that it prohibits any degradation of park waters and to tighten pollution and sedimentation controls; * completing studies of all park rivers that may be eligible for federal wild and scenic river status and giving this designation to rivers that qualify; * requiring existing dams that receive federal funds to avoid or minimize damage to parks; * reforming mineral laws and regulations to better control mineral and oil and gas development in or near parks; * banning geothermal development that could harm park hot springs and geysers; * developing water conservation programs in parks and surrounding areas.

NPCA Names Winners of Conservation Awards

NPCA presented its three annual conservation awards this fall.

For his efforts to protect Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Bill Wade, the park's superintendent, won the ninth Stephen Tyng Mather award.

Shenandoah has some of the worst air pollution in any national park, a problem likely to increase as roughly two dozen new power plants are being planned in Virginia. Wade used every means at his disposal to make permitting authorities aware of the threat to the park and to gain more stringent pollution controls on the plants.

Wade has built a strong research and monitoring program on limited funds. He also established cooperative planning efforts with surrounding counties to preserve Shenandoah's natural beauty and long-term ecological health as development around the park increases.

Funded by the Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Company, the award goes each year to a public service employee who has risked his or her job or career for the principles and practices of stewardship.

NPCA's 1992 Conservationist of the Year award went to a retiring member of Congress, Rep. Charles Bennett (D-Fla.), who donated $200,000 in leftover campaign funds to the Park Service. The money will go toward land purchases at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve near Jacksonville. During his 22 terms in office, Bennett also helped gain passage of many important conservation and parks bills.

This year's recipient of the Freeman Tilden award is David Kronk of Everglades National Park. The award is presented each year to the park employee who contributes most to public understanding of the parks. Kronk developed an acclaimed half-hour film, "Kids Explore the Everglades," and an accompanying teacher's manual that are widely used in Florida schools. He has also developed innovative workshops for NPS staff and school teachers on environmental education techniques.

Giant Theater to be Built Near Zion

The Springdale, Utah, town council this fall issued a permit for a giant-screen cinema complex, to be built on the doorstep of Zion National Park. The action ends NPCA's two-year fight to block construction of the complex there.

The development will stand directly in front of the view of towering red cliffs that unfolds as visitors approach Zion and across the narrow Virgin River from the main park campground.

The complex includes a movie theater with a 55- by 70-foot screen, 12,000 feet of retail space, and approximately 200 parking spaces. Plans for an 80-room motel have been shelved for now but may be revived later.

The proposal drew national media attention, as members of Congress, Robert Redford, writer Wallace Stegner, NPCA members, and hundreds of others wrote letters opposing it. Terri Martin, NPCA Rocky Mountain regional director, as well as the Park Service, pressed the developers and town leaders to select a site in downtown Springdale rather than next to the park.

But in June 1992, the town council issued a conditional use permit for the project at the proposed site. That permit was approved despite a provision in Springdale's zoning ordinance prohibiting buildings higher than 35 feet. NPCA challenged the permit in court, and a Utah judge ruled that specific building plans for the project would have to conform to the town ordinance.

But under the ordinance's vague language about how building height is measured, the council issued a final building permit last fall. The theater will stand 51 feet tall at its highest point.

"The Zion case illustrates the difficulty of protecting parks from incompatible activities on adjacent private lands," said Martin. "We tried all the tools in the toolbox and were unable to stop this project. We desperately need new ways to encourage a more sensitive approach to the use of private and public lands adjacent to our national parks." Proposed legislation may offer ways to do this.
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Title Annotation:National Parks and Conservation Association report defines pollution problems
Publication:National Parks
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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