Thursday, December 03, 2015

Park's crumbling water system tests cash-strapped NPS

Grand Canyon National Park's water pipeline was among the Interior Department's most ambitious projects in the 1960s. The 16-mile aluminum pipeline captures water gushing from a cave thousands of feet below the North Rim, snakes to the canyon floor, then surges up the arid South Rim to quench the thirst of 4.8 million park visitors every year. It's still the park's only source of drinking water, but the pipeline is decades past its anticipated service life. Its frequent breakdowns -- as many as 30 a year -- keep park plumbers busy. "We're patching it as it breaks," said Robin Martin, the park's chief of planning and compliance. But with each service call costing $25,000, the pipeline repairs are straining the park's finances and the patience of hikers and campers who occasionally are asked to bring their own water or filter from the creeks. In rare circumstances, breakdowns have forced the evacuation of guests. And so the park is planning an ambitious project to replace it. Park managers are studying the hydrology of the North Rim springs and by early next year will ask the public to weigh in on an environmental impact statement to explore alternatives for a new pipeline. Estimated replacement cost: $150 million, a staggering sum for a park whose annual budget is roughly $20 million. It's a reflection of broader fiscal strain at the National Park Service as it prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016. Systemwide, the agency faces an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog -- everything from crumbling roads and unsafe bridges to leaky bathrooms and eroding trails...more

They can't take care of what they've got, yet keep adding additional units.  Transfer Forest Service, BLM and similar lands to the states and spend federal resources on bringing our National Parks back up to par.

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