Colorado Wildfires Threaten Water Supplies

Last week, aerial views of Rampart Reservoir, a critical water-storage facility for Colorado Springs, Colorado, showed spot fires billowing tentacles of smoke over the lake’s forested shores.

“It smelled like a big smelly cigar,” said Andy Funchess, a water systems field operations manager for the Colorado Springs water utility. Funchess spends his workdays monitoring and maintaining the city’s 25 reservoirs and hundreds of miles of pipeline and canals.

Smoke rises around Rampart Reservoir from Waldo Canyon Fire in this aerial photograph taken in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 27, 2012.

Smoke rises around Rampart Reservoir from Waldo Canyon Fire in this aerial photograph taken in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 27, 2012.

As strong winds helped the Waldo Canyon Fire puncture black holes into the evergreen landscape around the reservoir, Funchess gave up on trying to predict the fire’s erratic behavior and was evacuated.

The Waldo Canyon Fire, which started 11 days ago and has swept over nearly 18,000 acres, is now 70 percent contained. It hasn’t consumed the reservoir, but could have long-lasting effects on water quality—and even quantity. Read more

Grabbing Water From Future Generations

Suresh Ponnusami sat back on his porch by the road south of the Indian textile town of Tirupur. He was not rich, but for the owner of a two-acre farm in the backwoods of a developing country he was doing rather well. He had a TV, a car, and a maid to bring him drinks and ensure his traditional white Indian robes were freshly laundered every morning.


Pumping and shipping groundwater in New Delhi and elsewhere in India has become big business, but water table levels are dropping.

The source of his wealth, he said, was a large water reservoir beside his house. And as we chatted, a tanker drew up on the road. The driver dropped a large pipe from his vehicle into the reservoir and began sucking up the contents. Read more

The High Costs of Free Water

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.
– Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746


Watering the pavement, just one of many ways we waste water. Photo: Di Bédard, Flickr

The problem with water, many economists say, is the fact that it is essentially free.

That may come as a surprise to you if you receive a monthly bill from your local water utility.  But the economists are technically correct.  In most places in the world, we pay only for the cost of delivering the water to our homes or businesses, i.e., the cost of electricity to push it through distribution pipes, clean out impurities, or to construct a reservoir to store water.  The water itself is free. (See Ireland’s shift to charge at least something for water.) Read more

A Plea for the Water in All We Use, Make and Eat

“We’re using tomorrow’s water to meet today’s food demand,” warned Sandra Postel, National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, helping to provoke a meaningful discussion on water as it relates to food at the Aspen Environmental Forum. Agriculture was a central theme as it consumes a disproportionate share of global water resources.


Irrigation sprinklers in Utah. NGS Stock photo by James P. Blair

Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota painted a picture of our inefficiency. “One liter of water is needed to irrigate one calorie food, but that changes by factor of 100 for the most inefficient practices.” It is clear that water efficiency improvements for agriculture must play a large role. Read more

China’s Eco-Compensation Could Lead to Cleaner Waters

In East China’s Fujian Province, the booming economy has been good to the cities of Sanming and Nanping, as well as to farmers in the surrounding hills. That, however, has been bad news for the Min River and to the downstream city of Fuzhou, which gets its water from the Min. As farmers chopped down the trees that anchored the steep slopes of the Min River valley, silt began to pile up in the river as those slopes eroded.


The Min River in Nanping, China. Photograph by Pan Shi Bo, Wikimedia Commons

To ease the burden of filtering out all the silt from its municipal water supply, Fuzhou pays Sanming and Nanping roughly $800 million annually to encourage farmers to reforest the denuded hills and implement sustainable land-use practices. Read more