A Hidden Threat

Nearly 5 million people a year, from across the country and around the world, are drawn to the amazing expanse and wild nature of the Grand Canyon. Whether by viewing the incomprehensible beauty from along the rims, descending into the depths of the canyon on foot or atop a mule, or being one of the… Read more

Looking north towards Zoroaster Temple at Indian Gardens | Sinjin Eberle

Nearly 5 million people a year, from across the country and around the world, are drawn to the amazing expanse and wild nature of the Grand Canyon. Whether by viewing the incomprehensible beauty from along the rims, descending into the depths of the canyon on foot or atop a mule, or being one of the lucky souls to raft the Colorado River, the canyon speaks to so many people, in so many languages.

But aside from its inspiring views and humbling solitude, there is a trio of threats to the canyon, which spurred American Rivers to name the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon as America’s Most Endangered River in 2015. People across the country who identify with the canyon must understand that the canyon is facing the most severe threats since the Bridge and Marble Canyon dam projects were proposed (and later killed through forceful leadership and loud public outcry) in the 1970’s.

One of these threats may seem unexpected, as it is certainly outside the view of most visitors, but is of critical importance to the experience of enjoying the canyon, as well as the fragile life that lives within it. Between the canyon walls, among the world which author Kevin Fedarko likes to call “the world beneath the rims” lies a different kind of existence – the opposite of the grandeur and expanse that we know as the Grand Canyon, but an alternative one that is tucked into the canyon’s most precious, hidden retreats.

Spring flowing over rocks, with moss and plants | Sinjin Eberle
Spring flowing over rocks, with moss and plants | Sinjin Eberle

The seeps and springs and waterfalls of the inner Grand Canyon are critical, life sustaining sources of cool, clean water, for dozens of species of plants and animals that call these important places their home. But a potential plan that could include extraction of increasing amounts of groundwater from along the South Rim could dry up these inner-canyon oases permanently. The town of Tusayan, with its population hovering around 550 residents, is considering a dramatic expansion that could include the construction of over 2,000 new homes and over 3-million square feet of commercial space. This project could result in a substantial increase of new facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, a dude ranch, and a European-style spa – roughly the size of Minnesota’s Mall of America. And while that may not sound so bad, there is a critical question that remains unanswered…

Where will they get their water?

While no formal plan has yet to be released publicly about what the Italian development firm, Stilo Group, has in mind for the development’s new water supply, there have been rumblings that they are considering an increase of groundwater pumping, as well as an option to bring water in from afar by renovating an old coal-slurry line, or even to provide water to the town by train or semi-truck. If groundwater is on their mind, they should consider this – nearly two decades of hydrologic study has indicated that existing groundwater pumping at Tusayan is already having an impact on the natural resources within Grand Canyon National Park. Further pumping without a well-conceived, deliberate, and protective groundwater plan is a non-starter, and alternatives must be considered with the protection of groundwater within the park as the top priority.

Some of these treasures include Elves Chasm, Dripping Springs, and Havasu Falls – critical oasis within the canyon, and not just for people to play in or get a cool drink, but also supporting critical flora and fauna in some of the canyon’s harshest environments. These and other reasons are why we are concerned about the overall health of the canyon, and are inspiring the public to make their voice heard, and to encourage the Interior Department to lead efforts to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River for all of us, for all time. By joining American Rivers, you will help us take action on these and other critical issues, while helping us continue to work every day for the permanent and comprehensive protection of our most iconic and cherished landscape. Your involvement is key to leaving this place as it is.

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