City of GWS ensures clean drinking water |

City of GWS ensures clean drinking water

Dan Ben-Horin
Staff Photo |

The City of Glenwood Springs recently completed a Source Water Protection Plan, joining the ranks of Basalt, Carbondale, Aspen and 17 other small water providers in the Roaring Fork Valley that have already done so. This is a progressive step for the city, taking a proactive approach to maintaining the high quality of its municipal drinking water sources.

Source waters provide water for public drinking supplies and private wells. Surface waters such as streams, rivers and lakes, or ground water can serve as sources of drinking water. Public utilities treat most water before it is distributed for use by residents. Protecting source water reduces risks to public health from exposure to contaminated water. Protecting source water from contamination can also reduce municipal treatment costs.

Here in Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment completed source water assessments for most of the state in the early 2000s as a requirement of the federal Safe Water Drinking Act; Glenwood Springs’ assessment was completed in 2004. This assessment identified the sources of Glenwood Springs’ public water, while at the same time examining potential contamination sources and other threats. Equipped with this information, the city embarked on the second phase of work, the protection phase, to develop appropriate management strategies to safeguard its community water sources.

Development and implementation of a protection plan is completely voluntary. Glenwood relied on the expertise of its staff and interested residents, who formed a steering committee, to contribute to the planning efforts.

The 2004 assessment defined two source water protection areas for Glenwood Springs’ drinking water supply, the No Name and Grizzly Creek watersheds northeast of town and the Lower Roaring Fork watershed south of the city, each with their own issues of concern and potential sources of contamination.

No Name and Grizzly creeks flow from high in the Flat Tops south to where they meet the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. Wildfire, outdoor recreation and infrastructure vandalism were identified as the primary potential sources of contamination in these source waters. In contrast, the city’s other drinking water supply on the Lower Roaring Fork River is exposed to different land use practices that translate into different concerns. Here the risk of contamination comes from commercial and industrial operations, transportation and roads, and septic systems, among others.

Knowing the types and location of potential sources of contamination allows the city to take action to reduce the risk of contamination and protect the community’s source waters. An example of this work is the Glenwood Springs Fire Department’s development of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Areas north of the drinking water intakes on No Name and Grizzly Creeks have been assigned a “very high” wildfire danger rating. Wildfires can have catastrophic effects on drinking water sources, dictating the need to prioritize wildfire mitigation efforts in these source water areas. Actions such as the placement of additional signage at trailheads, installation of expanded information kiosks and the appropriation of additional funds for wildfire mitigation in the form of fuel reduction in the source water protection areas are advised by the protection plan.

The single largest opportunity for protection of the Lower Roaring Fork River intake is through effective public outreach to encourage local businesses, property owners and visitors to employ pollution control practices that protect drinking water sources.

Maintaining clean drinking water supplies is a community-wide responsibility. The protection plan lays the foundation for reducing the risk of contamination, but is only effective if the city and its residents work together to carry out the work identified in the protection plan. This includes making a commitment of required funding and personnel.

When this is viewed in contrast to the high costs involved in contaminant cleanup, as is currently seen in Flint, Michigan, these up-front investments are quite reasonable. Additionally, source water protection plans are intended to be iterative, requiring periodic review and update to address new potential threats over time. The framework has been set to ensure the city has a reliable, safe drinking water supply, and it is now on the shoulders of the community to maintain our precious water resources.

Dan Ben-Horin is a watershed specialist with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. His column, Your Watershed, appears on the second Sunday of each month. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council works to evaluate, protect and enhance that watershed through cooperative efforts of stakeholders. To learn more, go to

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