Column: Protecting our water is everyone’s responsibility
Here in the Colorado and Roaring Fork River watersheds, we take pride in our high quality of life. Many of us choose to live here because of the access to nature and all that it affords: pristine landscapes right in our backyard, with boundless recreation and the spectacular vistas that are part of our daily routine. We often assume that clean water is inherent to the region, but a lot of work goes into ensuring our drinking water supplies remain clean and healthy.
Public surveys in the recently published Colorado Water Plan indicated that we place a very high value on both surface and groundwater quality. But how many of us actually know where our drinking water comes from? The source of our drinking water supplies are sensitive areas that must be protected. Protecting source water is the most cost-effective and reliable way to safeguard our drinking water. It is much more expensive to treat contaminated water than to prevent contamination in the first place.
Protecting source water is important for several reasons:
• Not all forms of contamination can be removed or treated (many pharmaceuticals and chemical compounds evade the water-treatment process).
• Many of us rely on private wells or surface water intake for drinking water. Protecting that source water supply is the only barrier against contamination.
• Higher quality source water supplies leads to higher quality drinking water and lower treatment costs.
In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to focus on the prevention of pollution to surface and groundwater to protect the sources of our drinking water. These amendments required all states to implement source water assessment programs that identify source water areas, as well as identify any potential sources of contamination to these source water areas. Protection is the first barrier to ensure our drinking water supplies are uncontaminated, and you can make a real difference in keeping these delicate water supplies clean and safe:
• Get to know your source water protection areas, or SWPAs — These areas typically include a segment of the watershed area upstream of your water provider’s intake. The exact boundaries of your SWPA can often be found in the Source Water Assessment or Source Water Protection Plan if one is available. Contact your water service provider for more information.
• Learn about any potential sources of contamination — Your local assessment or Source Water Protection Plan should identify both existing and potential sources of contamination. Factors such as locations of contaminant sources, relative toxicity, mobility of the contaminant and size and quantity of the contaminants are considered.
• Learn what can be done to minimize contaminants entering your SWPA. By understanding your protection area and what some of the potential sources of contamination are, you can implement measures to minimize any contamination. These include things like properly disposing of hazardous wastes, cleaning up after your pets and ensuring that your septic system is functioning properly.
Knowledge is the first step in maintaining the health of your SWPA. By personally taking action you can encourage others to do the same. Our water is a critical resource shared by all of us, and the responsibility to protect its source falls on the community as a whole. Get involved, contact your local watershed group or water service provider to learn more about what you can do to protect water in your area.
The Middle Colorado Watershed Council 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. You can also find them on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.
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.
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