Op-Ed: The Deep and Dangerous Secret in Every Sip of Water

Next time you lift a glass of water to your lips, take a moment. Reflect on where it comes from. Most people haven’t a clue. Rivers from snowpack, you say? Only partly.

The mountains are not really like steep roofs that shed their melt-water bounty directly down surface watersheds. Our mountains are more like deeply-stacked sponges. Their underlying fractured rock substrata hold far more water in their cracks than do reservoirs. Underground water flows into and out of rivers and streams all the way downslope and out onto the plains to the east and through the arid lands to the west.

Since its adoption in 2015, Colorado’s Water Plan has offhandedly acknowledged these facts but then paid scant attention to addressing their deep ramifications. Conspicuous by its absence is the crucial, continually-ignored need to sustain and care for the recharging of baseline groundwater resources.

As a headwaters state, Colorado will either slake the thirst or parch the throats of millions. To provide for enough clean water in surface watersheds, the plan must more strongly advocate for both the purity and the resilient volume of our deep, spongy groundwater exchanges. It’s these silent, underground flows that buoy up the entire hydrological system. The deliverables in the plan must be revised toward more immediate action and must include urgent measures to educate people about groundwater, stop pollution, and promote and protect the vital health of aquifers and wetlands.

Research shows that runoff and infiltration of agricultural and feedlot wastes, fracking chemicals, coal dumps, mine spoils, manufacturing toxins, household products, discarded medicines and many other pollutants don’t just foul rivers and streams from above. They also stage long-term stealth attacks on our environment, on our health and on the health of generations of our children from silent passageways underneath. Informed citizens and their representatives hold the only power now to demand that The Colorado Water Conservation Board must revise its water plan to address these dangers and assign responsible costs before they cost everything.

We’re all drinking from a deep, giant sponge. The obligation to unveil all water sources as a whole to make water policy that’s on the up-and-up starts with the phrase “Think down and deep.”

John Roberts is an independent journalist and fiction writer. His latest book is Turtle Eyes, available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. He received the National Endowment for the Arts Single Artist Award for Nonfiction. He lives in Boulder.

Westword occasionally publishes essays and op-eds on Colorado issues. If you have one that you think would work well here, send it to editorial@westword.com.

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