• Photo of early morning clouds hanging low in the valley with mountains of the Continental Divide stretched out above. NPS Photo/Schonlau

    Rocky Mountain

    National Park Colorado

Water Quality

Photo of Sky Pond

Sky Pond

NPS Photo

Although water quality is high in park waters relative to much of the country, threats do exist. As described above, nitrogen deposition is a factor influencing soils and waters in the park. In lakes and streams, the impacts of nitrogen deposition grow worse over time as the natural buffering capability of the soil and rock is used up. Eventually, chronic acidification can lead to the loss of many aquatic organisms and entire fish populations. As experience in the northeastern U.S., Canada, and Europe has shown, these changes can be almost impossible to reverse.

On an international scale, recent research is demonstrating that volatile chemicals, such as pesticides, can be transported long distances to remote lakes. Because mountains are year-round cold environments, deposited compounds seldom move back into the atmosphere. Such lakes become "sinks" for pesticides, mercury, and various organic compounds. Over time concentrations can become deadly to lake and stream organisms.

The Loch Vale Watershed -including Sky Pond, Lake of Glass, the Loch, Icy Brook, and adjoining mountainsides - is one of the most studied watersheds in the world. For twenty years scientists have been monitoring chemical inputs to the watershed from wind and precipitation. They have also studied the "background" chemistry of the local rocks, soils, and vegetation. This work helps distinguish between human impacts and natural processes occurring in this type of alpine and sub-alpine environment.

Much of what we know about air and water quality trends in the park comes from this long-term project. These scientists have given us the information necessary to make informed decisions. It is, however, up to society to act on this information. Each of us who enjoys the park has an obligation to take actions in our daily lives that will protect the blue skies and sparkling waters of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Link to the USGS web page on research at Loch Vale.

Thanks to Dr. Jill Baron, of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University and USGS, and Dr. Donald Campbell, USGS, for contributing to this page.

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