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Research project just Grand

As Colorado Mountain College students floated through the Grand Canyon, they went looking for more than rushing rapids and soaring canyon walls. They went in search of answers to some of the mysteries that lie at the heart of the canyons and how humans use them.

The answers they find may point to ways to protect water supplies in the national park, and how to protect rafters from falling ill from the same virus that has struck cruise ship passengers on the high seas.

Students are studying the results of tests they conducted in portable laboratories hauled through 225 miles of the Colorado River for 16 days last November. They returned to the Grand Canyon this month to compare the results they find in spring’s high flows to fall’s low water.



The project is one of many projects conducted by CMC’s Natural Resource Management Institute, a nonprofit environmental consulting group that provides cutting-edge research for federal agencies and industries throughout Colorado and across the West. The Grand Canyon project gave students four missions. They tested the waters for signs of the norovirus, a virus that has made rafters sick much as it has done to passengers on ocean liners. They probed the source of many of the canyon’s springs to see if a planned development on the South Rim could affect underground aquifers. They looked for radiation and chemicals in the waters, possibly from old mining operations. And they looked for signs of a nasty brain-eating amoeba that’s turned up in Yellowstone. Park Service officials don’t know if it exists in the Grand Canyon.

They may sound like university projects, said Karmen King, associate professor of Natural Resource Management and the Institute’s program administrator, but that kind of research has become common for NRMI students, who capitalize on smaller projects universities often turn down.



“They don’t even look at things like that,” King said. NRMI does, and its projects have provided a unique learning experience, and key job experience, for students.

Investigators discovered the norovirus virus throughout the canyon, Higgins said, possibly the result of a sewage treatment plan upstream at Glen Canyon Dam. Researchers found the virus may use the river itself to spread from person to person.

CMC’s work won’t eliminate the norovirus overnight, he said, but “it gets us down a long road of collecting the data that we need.”


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