Assuring the Future for Zion’s Smallest Water Animals

FUNDED: $45,738

During 2017, thousands of people entered the Virgin River to experience the world-famous Zion Narrows. With towering sandstone walls and sections where the river contracts to 20 feet across, walking the Virgin River Narrows is one of the signature experiences of the National Park System. Rising visitation has increased concern that thousands of feet and the influx of litter and waste are impacting aquatic invertebrates. These small animals thrive on the underside of rocks that line the river floor. They are a key component of the aquatic food web and one of the best ways to measure water quality and determine the overall health of a river.

With visitation increasing in both intensity and duration, Park leadership is partnering with Utah State University scientists to document the impact of human traffic on Virgin River ecosystems. The proposed 2-year water quality science study will compare the data collected with research completed in 2006 that assessed human impacts on a broader scale, prior to annual visitation nearly doubling in recent years. This research is necessary to understand the next steps for conserving one of the most iconic natural resources in Zion.