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Changes to Colorado River Impact National Parks

April 26. 2011

MONTROSE, Colo. - A new report is calling for a better balance between use and protection in the Colorado River Basin. The focus is on the dams along the Colorado and its tributaries, and their effects on the nine National Parks in that region. The National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) report found a range of issues connected to dams along the Colorado River basin.

David Nimkin, NPCA's Southwest regional director, says all of the parks in the basin, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, are seeing the sometimes-unintended consequences of placing dams along the river, from unnatural water flow patterns, to the introduction of non-native fish species, or increased river sediment and temperatures.

"The dams also fragment the system as whole, creating small isolated little ecosystems and areas that are not consistent with overall river conditions."

Another problem is diversion of water for irrigation, hydropower and drinking water, which is common in Colorado. The report calls for integrating data about how the human interventions transform the river basin in future river management, which could both protect the ecosystem and allow for continued water usage.

Nimkin says their goal isn't to remove dams, many of which created spaces like Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado.

"Our objective is to really to lay a foundation for how important the Colorado River is, in not only the creation, but in sustaining the natural conditions of our national parks."

Nimkin is calling for considering the entire river basin when making decisions about water management both inside and outside of the parks.

"Our belief is that that holistic approach to address the needs of the parks has not been common practice."

And that approach, he says, will benefit not only the parks, but also the Colorado communities that depend on the river basin for their drinking water and local economies.

The report is at: www.npca.org

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO