Vail’s Curious Nature: Conserve a little, save a lot
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Water is by far the single most abundant substance in the biosphere and is one of the world’s most important natural resources. Ninety-seven percent of all the earth’s water is contained in the oceans, 2 percent is locked up in polar ice caps and glaciers, and less than 1 percent is fresh water.
Here in the Vail Valley, we are very fortunate to live so close to the sources of our fresh water. The town of Vail is hydrated by Gore Creek, which begins high up in the Gore Range. The rest of the valley gets its water from the Eagle River, the headwaters of which are located along the Continental Divide near Tennessee Pass. The amount of water that converges into these waterways depends on the amount of precipitation that falls from the sky as rain or snow.
In fact, mountain snow fields act as natural reservoirs for many western United States water-supply systems. They store precipitation from the cooler seasons, when most precipitation falls, in the form of “snow pack” until the warm season when most or all snow packs melt and release water into rivers.
As much as 75 percent of water supplies in the Western states are derived from snowmelt. The amount of snow that piles up over the winter season in the mountains is highly variable, and is directly correlated to amount of water available to sustain those dependent on the river system.
You may have noticed this year’s snowpack is a little below average. That means less water is will enter the river systems when the spring thaw begins. Although this will have an adverse effect on those who live within the Eagle River watershed, it will have a much greater impact on the millions of people who live downstream.
The Eagle River is one of many tributaries to the mighty Colorado River, which begins high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and carves its way through the canyon lands of the southwestern U.S., providing water and power for millions of people in that region. This river is a major and life-sustaining source of water for irrigation, drinking and other uses by people living in the arid Southwest.
The power of the Colorado River carved out the Grand Canyon millions of years ago. Its strength still generates hydroelectric power at many dams, including the Hoover Dam. These dams divert the majority of the river in normal hydrologic years for agricultural and municipal water supply, with several cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson having aqueducts leading all the way back to the Colorado River.
In a year when less snow has graced our valley, our decisions on how we use water at the top of the watershed could have much greater impacts on those in the lower watershed. So think about the different ways that you use water and how that could affect a farmer, friend or relative downstream. By conserving a little, we can save a lot.
The Gore Range Natural Science School’s Curious Nature column appears Mondays in the Vail Daily and on http://www.vaildaily.com. Cal Orlowski is a winter naturalist at Gore Range Natural Science School, where he leads people on adventures in the great outdoors and teaches them to respect the wild. (www.gorerange.org)
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