Your Watershed: We all can help protect our water supply — Annie Whetzel

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a guest column from Annie Whetzel that’s running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

If the fight in Battlement Mesa over the proposed injection well zone and its proximity to the water intake for the public water supply taught us two things, it is that our drinking water comes from the river and it is vulnerable.

Throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and the middle Colorado River watershed, unless you have a well in your backyard, our water comes from surface water. (In fact, even if you have a private well, it is susceptible to surface water and chemicals at the surface that leach down.)

Surface water includes the water that runs off the surface of the ground, everything from the mountains upvalley to the sidewalk downtown, flows to the river, and into our home.

Source water, essentially the source of our water, is important to protect. It is the water we depend on for daily life. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council hosted an event recently and many participants wanted to know how they could help our watershed now. A quick answer is: protect source water.

Last year, Glenwood Springs finalized its source Source Water Assessment and Protection Plan. The city worked with a statewide organization called the Colorado Rural Water Association to identify where our water comes from, understand areas where the source water might be at risk, and ways to mitigate those risks to water.

Glenwood Springs highlighted two crucial areas. One area comes from the Flat Tops and flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. This tributary, while remote, is extremely vulnerable to severe fire damage.

If a large fire rolls across the area, the resulting sediment in the tributary could be enough to affect our water supply. It happened in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A fire tore through the area followed by heavy rains filling the river with sediment. The water treatment facility managers had to shut down their intake valve to the facility because the sediment in the water was too great for the system to handle.

The second area highlighted as at risk for contamination is along the Lower Roaring Fork River. This area is impacted by industry, transportation and the public. Here is where we get to work together and take feasible steps to ensure safe water.

The first step we all can easily take in protecting our source water is making sure we are handling our home waste and house run-off effectively. Paul Hempel, source water specialist for the Colorado Rural Water Association, said to best protect source water at an individual level is to “take care of household activities.”

Taking care of household activities includes managing toxic household supplies effectively and ensuring something as simple as oil and grease are handled correctly. That is, don’t pour it down the drain.

In a prepared statement, Trent Mahaffey from Glenwood Springs Waste Water Treatment Facility, explained that oil and grease can easily damage water and septic systems and can “create overflows into local waterways or property.” He reminds us all to freeze oil and grease and dispose of it in our household trash, and wipe out oily pans with a paper towel before washing them, to prevent excess oil going down the drain.

Another common source water contamination is runoff directly from a house or driveway. Hempel mentioned that porous surfaces are helpful to prevent excess runoff. Runoff from the house directly to a sidewalk or down a driveway can easily collect debris, oil, animal droppings and other contaminants like fertilizers on its way to the storm drain or ditch. If you have a downspout, create a gravel catchment for the water so it doesn’t have the opportunity to pick up large contaminants on its way to the river.

Better yet, avoid potential contaminants all together. Hempel stresses that the most important aspect of protecting source water is to simply be aware. This means understanding that what we spray down our driveway or pour down our drain affects our water supply. We should strive to avoid fertilizers with nitrates and washing our car in the driveway. Even if we protect the flow of water to the storm drain with porous surfaces, it is possible for surface water to seep into our groundwater, which will also make its way to the river.

How can we help our watershed? Be aware of where our water comes from and be aware of what we are adding to the system. Let’s protect our source water.

Annie Whetzel is with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.

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