June 2020 – Jennifer Lam

My relationship with water has seemingly been simply.  


When I am thirsty, I go to the water dispenser, from which we get the 5-gallon water jug filled up at the local Wal-Mart. 


When I need to brush my teeth or take a shower, I simply turn on a faucet and water appears. 


When I want to swim, there is a chlorinated pool somewhere waiting for me to jump in.  


I assumed that the source of my water came from the Cherry Creek Reservoir, and that it fills up whenever it rains, but this is not necessarily the entire truth. 


Earlier in the academic school year, my college held a water tour where we visited sites where water that goes to Colorado Springs and Denver comes from. Who would have thought the trip would take me hundreds of miles away, nestled near the Western Slope, to see all the necessary work that goes in to maintaining our water supply. 


We stayed at a hot spring resort. The organizers were able to justify staying at this resort because a hot spring was a source of recreational water use. Literally, surrounded by arid forestry and mountains, the hot spring just seemed out of place, or too good to be true.  It was nighttime and we had the opportunity to look at the stars as the hot springs warm our bodies and I felt an overwhelming sense of privilege being able to have this kind of experience.  


We also visited the places that held our water. From the Arkansas River Basin, along the Platte River, to the Continental Divide. I found these places to have a certain sense of calm, in tune with nature, but juxtaposed to the fact that these basins and rivers were shifted and directed to go to certain areas by humans. My favorite place was visiting the basin next to the Continental Divide. As a group, we took a stroll along the long stretch that separated the basin from the wall built to contain the water. It was peaceful and made you think of the effort and work that goes into filling a cup of water at home.  


We visited the Otero Pump Station. Apparently, this station is manned by 10 people, but the work that these 10 people do, serve thousands in communities across Colorado. Secluded on a high hill, this pump station is responsible for pumping our water through pipes that vary in vertical height, pumping uphill and downhill. The maintenance that goes into ensuring that there are no leaks along this long stretch of pipe is crucial.  


We also visited a water treatment facility in Colorado Springs before finally returning to campus. Upon entering the facility, the smell just HITS you. A horrible stench of waste wafted in the air into the building where waste initially gets treated. We followed the step by step path of how water is treated as it moves through the facility. A disheartening fact that our guide told us was that pollutants in water, such as pharmaceutical drugs are difficult to remove from the water. It makes you question how at some point, the water that is being treated will become polluted again and we have to ask ourselves, how much until we cannot treat it as effectively. One part that I liked was how UV light was used to get rid of contaminants in the water. We love science.   


Upon returning to campus, what began as just a desire to spend 3 days at the hot springs, ended up being a learning experience that made me grateful of the water that is delivered to my home every day.  


Below are some photos from the water tour.