Posted on: March 22 2012

Focus on Water: Protecting Our Great Waters

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By Chad Lord, Director, Water Program

Today is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to the importance of freshwater.

And for good reason. Water drives regional economies, sustains the natural world, and shapes the daily lives of people all across the globe. As Yves Corbiere recently posted, water is not just key to our survival, it’s central to our memory and imagination. However, our own nation has not adequately prioritized protecting important aquatic ecosystems—or, as NPCA calls them, our Great Waters—which stretch from the Great Lakes to the Everglades to the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound. As a result, degraded water quality, invasive species, altered water flows, climate change, and loss of habitat have taken their toll on our natural and cultural landscapes.

Clean water is vital for our national parks and their millions of visitors. Water in its myriad forms—seeps, springs, wetlands, aquifers, geysers, streams, lakes, and oceans—is fundamental to the plants and wildlife people find when visiting national parks from Acadia to Death Valley, Everglades to Wrangell-St. Elias. From deserts to rainforests, wetlands to glaciers, water is central to all that is preserved and experienced in our national parks.

The health and availability of water, however, is inextricably linked to what happens on the land. With more than two-thirds of all national park units located in Great Waters watersheds, the ways we use the land around national parks (whether agriculture or urban development) impacts the quality and quantity of water in national parks. Protecting water in and around parks is about restoring and protecting the land around America’s treasured places.

NPCA is engaged in landscape conservation and restoration work all over the country. National parks are the heart of larger ecosystems, and the health of parks is dependent on the health of the larger area.

Although NPCA is making progress with land and water restoration efforts in many areas, parks are hampered by a lack of funding, broken federal water policies, and limited political will. For example, in South Florida, NPCA successfully lobbied to bridge a portion of a road near Everglades National Park known as the Tamiami Trail, eliminating a dam and allowing water to flow naturally underneath it. While this one-mile segment is a huge milestone, Congress has not yet funded the more significant restoration work needed to bridge five more miles of the eleven-mile stretch of the trail that blocks water from reaching the park.

Some projects offer coalition support to critical watersheds. Along the Colorado River, NPCA is building a basin-wide coalition of citizens who care about the river and its adjacent parks, such as Grand Canyon and Canyonlands, to help highlight the profound impact that river management has on our parks and problems that occur when water is diverted by dams and other development. In the Great Lakes, NPCA is working with college students to restore the Great Marsh at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which will improve the quality of water flowing through Indiana Dunes and into Lake Michigan. NPCA continues to partner with communities with the goal of restoring these and other Great Waters. 

Learn more about what NPCA is doing in our Great Waters and how you can get involved: http://www.npca.org/protecting-our-parks/air-land-water/great-waters/. Learn more about NPCA landscape conservation efforts: http://www.npca.org/protecting-our-parks/air-land-water/landscape-conservation/npca-s-landscape-conservation-campaign.html.

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