Journey to the faucet’s source
Special to the Daily
Here at Keystone Science School, we provide students with the opportunity to connect more closely to the natural world: plants, animals, rocks and – my personal favorite – water. On any given winter day, you can find me happily braving the chilly temperatures and falling snow, knee-deep in Rocky Mountain stream water with a pack of middle school students eager to discover the source of their drinking water.
The journey often begins at the inner-city faucets of Denver, where students embark on an upstream quest to the headwaters here in Summit County. After 70 westbound miles and 4,000 vertical feet, these Front Range students will not stop at a mere visual of their water source. They want facts: depth, width, discharge, conductivity and a host of other scientific measurements used to analyze the quality of the earliest drops of their drinking water. Once satisfied with the facts, students, teachers and parents can return to the plains with the primal comfort of having seen the actual source of their drinking water. And as a Summit County resident and drinker of water, I, too, want to set my eyes upon the primary supply.
So where, exactly, does nature store the water that eventually ends up in our faucets? The answer varies depending on which watershed you live closest to. Dillon residents get their water from Straight Creek, which pours out of the mountain just below the Eisenhower Tunnel and follows I-70 all the way into town. The Straight Creek Trail follows the river and provides recreationists a chance to see not just scenic views but nature’s model of water storage and transportation.
The people of Frisco rely on North Tenmile Creek for their water needs. North Tenmile Trail follows the river up to its pristine wetland source at the foot of the Gore Range. Breckenridge residents utilize the Goose Pasture Tarn of the Blue River for their water, and can observe the headwaters that flow into the tarn along Highway 9 toward Hoosier Pass.
Not everybody in Summit County can trace their water source back to a stream or river. The first drops of water that flow to Silverthorne and Keystone originate underground, and are forced to the surface by wells. Keystone pumps water from a large groundwater basin extending from beneath Summit Cove to parts of Keystone. The water is collected as runoff flows down surrounding mountains and neighborhoods, collecting whatever it can, and filtering itself as it travels underground. Similarly, Silverthorne pumps groundwater from underneath the Blue River Basin. The earth separating the groundwater from the surface water in Silverthorne is alluvial, meaning it is very effective at filtering contaminates. Perhaps the nature of Silverthorne’s groundwater source is responsible for Silverthorne’s second place victory in a September water tasting competition.
Summit County residents are lucky to live below the best water purification system on earth: the Rocky Mountains. Take a tour; they’re open all year!
Alex Bond is a program instructor at Keystone Science School. He can be reached at (970) 68-2098. To learn more about our programs, visit http://www.keystonescienceschool.org.
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