Water-Liquid Life

Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home From "Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead," Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home
From “Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead,” by Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson
Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and Utah’s northern rivers are engorged with liquid life- and have been for what seems like months now. After a winter of record snowfall, the spring heat and a miniature monsoon season have raised our local waters to levels not seen in decades. During this exceptional seasonal runoff, it’s easy to forget that we still live in the second-most arid state in the Union. Nonetheless, this seasonal plethora of the wet stuff is an ardent reminder that, even here, it is water we Utahns have to thank for our most prestigious landscapes and the diversity of flora and fauna that call these places home.

It has, in most cases, taken quite a lot of time, though. Consider the Great Salt Lake: Utah’s most iconic landmark. It’s a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville-itself the pluvial product of slow glaciation and rainwater collection. Thousands upon thousands of years of evaporative sun exposure, though, shrank Lake Bonneville and changed the local climate and ecosystem into what we have today, a salty inland sea implanted within an arid, Mediterranean climate. Though deprived of its acreage- and being immensely saltier than its predecessor- The Great Salt Lake supports an incredibly diverse and highly complex ecosystem. Concocted by the mixture of ancient salts and fresh water provided by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers, the wetland ecosystems on the fringes of the Great Salt Lake play host to millions of migratory birds each year that are travelling along the Pacific Flyway. Without these oases, the diversity of Utah’s waterfowl-and wildlife at large- would dwindle drastically.

One cannot speak of water’s effect upon Utah’s landscapes without singing the praises of the wondrous redrock canyons that dissect our state’s southern reaches. The force of water upon the high desert of Utah’s allocation of Colorado Plateau is intermillenial, hydrological poetry. Ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous seas deposited layer upon colorful layer of various sediments before heat, pressure, and the recession of shorelines turned them to stone. Water then went back to work within a new climate upon an old geography with rare but violent torrents of flashing floods that sliced ever deeper and more intricate cleavages into the sandstone. I remember visiting one particularly beautiful slot canyon with my wife. The fossilized wave action we spotted above the rim was preserved below as well with streaks of sediment mismatched and displaced into a beautiful kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and purples. Water’s work was not finished here, though. Dispersed along the distant trail into the best parts of this remote canyon, there were desert riparian jungles of small cottonwoods, mosses, and ferns that harbored ephemeral pools dotted with water striders and even the occasional canyon tree frog.

Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017 Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017
Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Water is a fickle beast, though- crucial to maintaining life but behaving without regard for its endeavors. The same forces of hydrology that created the Great Salt Lake, our richly diverse wetland ecosystems, and the stunning desert landscapes we love to explore can likewise wreak havoc upon our daily lives. Consider the recent deluge in Cache Valley. Several weeks ago, our northern valley was inundated with precipitation, leaving some families stranded in their low-lying homes with no access to the nearest road. A friend of mine who runs a canoe rental business told tale of making deliveries to homes so that people could commute from the end of their driveway to their front door. Perhaps no other force of nature can be so frustrating yet so gratifying; so plentiful yet so fleeting. It’s a wild thing, water. It is a miraculous ubiquity that, even in the driest places, leaves an indelible mark upon the landscape and the lives that inhabit it.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Cottonwood Heights City
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Water Week, Eli Robinson, USU Water Quality Extension program, May 8, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/utah-water-week/

Water Properties, Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, Nov 17,2014, http://wildaboututah.org/water-properties/

Utah Water Week

Join us for Utah Water Week We all live in a watershed. Help protect our water!Join us for Utah Water Week
We all live in a watershed. Help protect our water!


Utah Water Week runs from May 7th through the 13th, and is a perfect time of year for each of us to consider the importance of water in our lives.

In a dry state like Utah, where irrigation is important for maintaining our crops, gardens and lawns, we tend to focus on how much water we have. It’s easy to forget that the quality of this water will actually determine how (or if) we can use it.

We all value clean water to drink and use around the home, but those aren’t the only reasons we need clean water. Swimming in our lakes and reservoirs is only safe if the water is free of pathogens. Irrigation water with high salt concentrations is unusable. Fish and other aquatic life are the most dependent on clean water, needing water that is the right temperature, has sufficient dissolved oxygen and is free of toxins and other pollutants.

We’ve made great progress in this country in reducing water pollution – particularly in treating municipal and industrial waste. We’re still improving those treatment methods but the biggest problems these days are water pollutants that don’t come from a single source.

Fertilizers, pesticides, personal care products, and motor oil are just a few examples of substances that can cause serious harm when they reach our waters. Excess fertilizers that are washed into our lakes contribute to floating rafts of harmful algae, green cloudy water, and low oxygen levels. A single quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water. Improper disposal of medicines and personal care products are literally medicating our waters.
It’s always cheaper and easier to prevent water pollution than to clean up dirty water. Luckily, there’s a lot of pretty simple and straightforward actions we can all take to help keep our waters clean. In fact, a lot of Utahns are already helping out.

Homeowners are using more environmentally-friendly products and are composting their kitchen waste rather than sending it down the garbage disposal to a WWTP or a septic system. Gardeners and farmers are taking care to use no more fertilizer than their plants need and are implementing new irrigation methods that reduce runoff into streams and lakes. Pet owners are picking up after their pets and disposing of the waste properly. Pharmacies are partnering with our municipal offices so we can return medicines for proper disposal rather than dumping them down the drain. Municipalities are keeping their roads clean and finding innovative ways to capture and treat storm water. Farmers are reducing polluted runoff from animal operations, and across the state landowners and land managers are restoring streamside vegetation that helps intercept pollutants.

This water week, take a look around you and think of ways you can help keep our water pollutant-free. Together, our small actions will have big impacts on keeping our water clean.
For more ideas, visit our website: extension.usu.edu/waterquality.

Remember…..water is life and quality matters.

This is Eli Robinson from USU’s Water Quality Extension program…

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Utah Water Week, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/Calendarandevents/waterweek
Text:     Eli Robinson

For Information On Tagging:

Utah Water Week, USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/Calendarandevents/waterweek

USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/

USU Water Quality Extension Program, 2017, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/protect_your_water

Water Quality, The USGS Water Science School, USGS, https://water.usgs.gov/edu/waterquality.html