November 18, 2005
The following information has been developed by Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association after a review of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) developed by the National Park Service (NPS) for the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP). This information is provided to assist those who wish to have a basic summary of the FIES, but are unable to review the document in its entirety. While representing key features of the FIES as accurately as possible, because the FEIS does not outline final operational procedures, there unavoidably are areas where this summary will be incomplete. The following content reflects provisions of NPS Modified Alternative H.
Modified Alternative H is a mixed motor/non-motor alternative with mixed use allowed for 5.5 months (April 1 through September 15) and non-motorized use from September 16 through March 31. It is characterized by lower group sizes and fewer daily launches except during the winter months. This alternative would allow for a moderate increase in estimated yearly passenger totals. (NPS Summary of Key Changes from Current Condition, page 1).
Area of Interest: Launches
General Comments: The total number of non-commercial annual launches is increased significantly. The maximum number of daily launches is reduced, thereby decreasing the number of daily trip contacts, crowding, and campsite competition.
Specific Impacts: Increase - from 240 to 503 - in the number of non-commercial launches per year. New launch category of 8-person trips established; greatly increases number of non-commercial launches in most desirable season. Launches are spread more evenly over seasons. Maximum daily launches are reduced from 9 to 6. Total number of summer non-commercial launches is 185, a 43% increase in non-commercial use. Total number of non-summer/non-winter (shoulder season) non-commercial launches is 199, a 105% increase. Total number of winter non-commercial launches is 120 a 428% increase over the previous 28.
Other Information: Launches - not user-days - are now the new metric for the NPS in managing non-commercial trip flow through the Grand Canyon. Both user days and launches are used as metrics for commercial river traffic. Commercial user-day allocation is capped at current levels, non-commercial use is not.
Area of Interest: Usage Level
General Comments: The number of user-days for non-commercial boaters is now essentially the same as that of the commercial boating sector. This near 50/50 ratio will remain in place for the life of the plan.
Specific Impacts: A near doubling (from 58,048 to 113,486) in the total user-days allocated for non-commercial trips. A 52% increase (from 51,889 to 79,399) in the number of user-days allocated for non-commercial trips in the prime March-October season. A 97% increase (from 3,571 to 7,051) in number of non-commercial boaters able to access the river each year. Maximum number of people on the river at any time is reduced from 1,095 to 981. Total estimated number of passengers March through October would rise slightly from 22,143 to 22,802. Total estimated number of passengers per year would rise slightly from 22,461 to 24,657. Addition of a small trip category nets 6,710 additional user-days. Commercial sector must count guides against total trip limits.
Other Information: While user-days are no longer the metric for directly allocating trips, they are the underlying element for determining GC use levels.
Area of Interest: Trip Length
General Comment: With a few noted exceptions, trip length (Lees to Diamond) has been decreased.
Specific Impacts: Formerly, trips for all September and half of October were 18 days; under the new plan half of September and all of October are increased to 21 days. Maximum non-commercial trip length reduced from 18 to 16 in summer, from 21 to 18 for September 1-15, and from 30 to 25 days in winter. Maximum trip length reduced for commercial trips in summer/shoulder seasons; winter commercial trips eliminated. All non-commercial motor trips would be limited to 12 days, with no motors in winter. All trips in April are 18 days, instead of half being 18 and half 16. Trip length in November increases from 21 days to 25. No commercial trips November through March.
Other Information: Reduction in trip length is seen as an undesirable outcome, but evidently was necessary in NPS's view to obtain additional launch opportunities without creating river congestion and contributing to adverse resource impacts. It is not clear what NPS considers to be a motor trip; under some circumstances a motor/oar combination party may merit categorization as a non-motorized trip.
Area of Interest: Seasonal Usage
General Comment: The number of launches available to non-commercial boaters in each season is greater.
Specific Impacts: Minimum of one non-commercial launch a day every day of the year. Average of 1-1/2 non-commercial launches per day in peak season; two non-commercial trips launch every other day, April through October. Winter use is expected to increase by about 1,855 people per year.
Other Information: Some commercial use is shifted to the non-peak seasons from current summer use.
Area of Interest: Diamond Creek to Lake Mead
General Comments: The NPS took prominent steps to accommodate Native American interests. Increased traffic results in Hualapai-related areas.
Specific Impacts: Overall Hualapai river operations grow, but group sizes decreased. Pontoon activity may increase modestly; daily maximum of 480 passengers per day and possibility of increase of that number to 600. Three additional campsites are authorized. Hualapai overnight trips limited to 20 people, including guides.
Other Information: NPS has indicated support for a Native American-run river concession for the Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek portion of the river; legislation likely will be needed to accomplish this objective.
Area of Interest: Diamond Creek Issues
General Comment: Increased visitor traffic of various types will detract from some aspects of the wilderness experience.
Specific Impacts: Non-commercial Diamond Creek launches remain the same in number (2 per day). Non-commercial trip size limit for below Diamond trips remains 16. Peak season boaters limited to 3 nights below Diamond, and non-peak boaters to 5 nights. Motorized towouts allowed below Separation Canyon (Mile 240). No jet boat tours allowed. Non-Hualapai boaters are not to use the Diamond Creek ramp area between 7 A.M. and 9 A.M.
Other Information: Little substantive change from current status for non-commercial boaters.
Area of Interest: Resource Issues
General Comments: Smaller group sizes for commercial launches results in reduced resource impact. Modest decrease in length of the motor season. Whitmore exchanges continue at slightly reduced levels. Some limitations in visitation.
Specific Impacts: Small group non-commercial launches allow diversion of some camping to smaller beaches. Reduction in commercial group size. Motor (mixed-use) season reduced from 9 to 5-1/2 months per year; no winter motor use. No additional commercial firms permitted to use Whitmore for passenger exchanges. Visitation at the mouth of Tapeats and Kanab Creeks will be restricted to day-use only. Visitation on the south side of the Little Colorado River is restricted from March 1-November 30.
Other Information: NPS has no authority over transportation activity on non-Park land, and thus was limited in its ability to effect changes in areas of Native American jurisdiction.
Area of Interest: Commercial Impact
General Comment: Commercial operations will be required to change some scheduling and modify trip composition.
Specific Impacts: There is a 7% reduction in the number of commercial launches - from 640 to 598. Commercial motor and oar trip sizes will be reduced (from 43 motor and 39 non-motor to 32 in the summer, and 24 in other seasons for both categories). Commercial motor trip lengths shortened to 10 days in the summer and 12 in the shoulder seasons. No commercial oar or motor trips November through March. Total commercial passengers decrease by 1,285. Commercial crew will be counted toward total trip participant numbers, but not user-day totals. Whitmore exchanges are only from April through September, instead of all year; other than emergencies all such exchanges must take place before 10:00 a.m. Modest reduction (from 10,265 to 9,740) in Whitmore exchange passengers.
A hybrid weighted lottery option was adopted by the NPS. Once each year, a lottery would be used to award the following year's noncommercial launches. Lottery applications would list the applicant and all potential alternate trip leaders (potential leaders.) and could include up to five launch dates throughout the year for initial consideration. Each applicant's chance in that year's lottery would vary depending on the minimum number of years it would have been since any potential leader had won through the lottery or participated in any part of a commercial or non-commercial trip between Lees Ferry and Diamond Creek. (Edited extract from FEIS, Section 2.8. page 112).
Area of Interest: Permit System
General Comment: The current waiting list is abolished, and a weighted lottery is substituted for the issuance of permits (See Lottery, below).
Specific Impacts: Substitution of a lottery for the current waiting list system. Expanded use of alternate trip leader concept reduces cancellations. Permit holders must be 18 at time of trip. Only one GC river trip per year permitted each person, whether a commercial or non-commercial passenger. Non-refundable fee structure. Cancellation policy yet to be firmly established; may involve recycling unsuccessful lottery applicants for cancelled permits.
Other Information: This permit issuance system represents a significant change - from a waiting list to a form of lottery that is felt to represent the unique issues of the GC. This system is subject to annual review and may be modified.
Area of Interest: Lottery
General Comment: A "Hybrid Weighted Lottery" will be used to apportion permits in coming years.
Specific Impacts: Weighted lottery gives additional chances (up to five on a sliding scale) for time that has passed since applicant has made a GC river trip. Lottery applications will allow applicants to list multiple dates for the year the lottery launches would be selected. Separate applications for each year's lottery are required; applications are not carried over from year to year. Procedure encourages people to apply for launches only in years when they are really interested in going.
Other Information: Precise details of the new lottery system are not fully developed, particularly with respect to allocation of cancellations. The River Permits office can change the parameters of the lottery to make it more responsive if needed. GCBA intends to serve as a consultant in that process.
Area of Interest: Waitlist Transition
General Comment: Complete resolution of the waitlist six months from implementation.
Specific Impacts: Three-phase transition from current waitlist results in reassigning all current list members into either actual trip date or new eligibility category. Transition would take place during the first 4-6 months after the Record of Decision (ROD) is signed.
Stage 1 - members of the waitlist would be given one final two-month chance to schedule launch dates through the existing waitlist. A total of 600 launch dates (from the 2007 through 2011 seasons) would be made available for this purpose.
Stage 2 (modified waitlist stage) - remaining waitlist members may band together and advance up the list based on their combined waits. A total of 600 additional launch dates (from the 2007 through 2011 seasons) would be made available to those combined waitlist members with the greatest wait totals.
Stage 3 - Each remaining waitlist member would have their choice of the following two basic options:
1. Trading their spot on the waitlist for one extra lottery chance in the new hybrid lottery for each year they had been on the existing waitlist; these would be in addition to the total chances they would normally have had in the lottery.
2. Accept a refund for the price they paid to join the list, be removed from the process, and re-apply at some later as a new applicant.
The total transition time is expected to be six months. Within 5 years (by 2011), all qualifying Stage 1 & 2 waitlist members would have had the opportunity to schedule and take their trips.
Other Information: The brief transitional period is efficient in solving the potential problem of maintaining a dual-track system. Proposed system requires persons on the list to relatively quickly make critical decisions about how the new regulations will best fit into the specific planning for their personal trip.