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 Seeps, Springs, and Tusayan Growth
  BQR ~ Fall 1999

ver a decade of planning, research and coordination among government and non-governmental entities has finally resulted in a decision on the Canyon Forest Village (cfv) development in Tusayan. On August 6th, 1999 Southwest Regional Forester Eleanor S. Towns announced her selection of Alternative H to guide future growth in the Grand Canyon/Tusayan area. The broad spectrum of proponents for Alternative H have hailed the elaborate and fossil fuel intensive water delivery system as the saving grace for the Canyon's seeps and springs. Thanks to everyone's creative thinking and cooperative compromising, Alternative H probably won't impact the Canyon's seeps and springs all that much. The public's support for Alternative H suggests that we're okay with sacrificing a small percentage of our southwestern riparian ecosystems in the name of industrial tourism. Besides, it was pretty obvious that the other alternatives would have sacrificed an even larger percentage of this endangered ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the Canyon's South Rim seeps and springs still face a very real threat from regional groundwater pumping. Even with cfv still just in the proposal stage, a development of this magnitude with so much economic potential has already attracted additional developments on other private properties. These developments, unlike cfv, do not have access to cfv water and thus will depend on the exploitation of groundwater. Since the Tusayan region is not part of an Active Management Area (ama) it is not required to have strict regulations or restrictions on growth that would help prevent the over-pumping of its aquifer. So, as Tusayan groundwater pumping continues (here and there on private land developments) in the absence of ama-type regulations, the Canyon's seeps and springs will still be threatened by the cumulative effects of this groundwater-dependent growth.
A difficult situation, indeed. A situation driven much more by supply and demand economics, much less by environmental ethics. No easy answers here. There are still a few of those “big picture” questions that need to be wrestled with. Where is the most logical place to “stage” all these folks who want to visit this incredibly beautiful place? Maybe it really is just outside the Park's political boundary… maybe it isn't. Should Tusayan be designated as an Active Management Area before groundwater pumping gets out of hand and impacts the South Rim seeps and springs? Absolutely, but it probably won't because the economic implications of this are huge. Can growth in Tusayan continue without impacting this grand vestige of Arizona's pristine southwest riparian systems? Continued research into the hydrologic realities of this region would no doubt help us answer this question. How serious are we about protecting the Grand Canyon for future generations to enjoy? In light of the myriad threats on the Park, it deserves the absolute best protection we can offer her; no less. Unfortunately the “new improved” cfv still presents, albeit indirectly, a serious threat to the already endangered riparian communities within the Park. We'd best stay on top of this one.

Joel Barnes

big horn sheep