Earth Notes: Protecting Water Rights at Arches National Park

Jul 29, 2015

After more than 15 years of negotiations, the state of Utah and the National Park Service signed a water rights agreement this spring for Arches National Park.

Arches National Park
Credit Courtesy


Water is scarce in southern Utah—Arches receives about nine inches of rain each year. The park’s streams, potholes, seeps and springs support a tremendous array of plants and animals.

What’s more, seeping groundwater plays a key role in arch formation. In a park famed for more than 2,000 arches, this sculpting power is a precious asset.

Western water rights are governed by the states. When landowners near Arches want to extract water, they apply to the state of Utah, which determines if there’s adequate water available.

The new agreement creates an 80,000-acre Protection Zone outside park boundaries, identified by studying the park’s watersheds and underlying aquifers. This Protection Zone safeguards both surface water and the aquifer that feeds the park’s seeps and springs. Other, deeper aquifers don’t impact the park and remain available for extraction.

Who benefits? “It’s win-win,” says Mark Miller, Chief of Resource Stewardship and Science for the National Park Service’s southeast Utah parks. The Park Service and public benefit from permanent protection of the park’s natural resources. The state gains certainty in managing water resources. Nearby landowners gain clear options for water drilling.

This is the eighth such agreement the state of Utah has negotiated with the National Park Service. Miller applauds these proactive efforts, noting that the state of Utah is ahead of the game in the arid west.