Sunday, May 15, 2016

The river that binds us

I'm swamped with both family work and market work that demand much of my time and attention.  The story about how I named my blog explains why.

As I sat on an airplane, leaving the family that needs me, to the job that also needs me, I pondered the irony that a woman so concerned with climate change is sitting on an airplane, spewing CO2 into the stratosphere.

A window seat in an airplane between LAX and DEN is also a good time to reflect about the water cycle.

Our familial home is down there, as is DD's school and DH's lab.
Remember when our elementary school teachers told us that, if we could pour a cup of water on top of the Continental Divide, half could end up in the Atlantic Ocean and half would end up in the Pacific Ocean?

It turns out, that it is not quite so simple.

The Colorado River, originating west of the Continental Divide, used to drain into the Pacific Ocean. But it hasn't for decades, because all of the water was used and reused until it peters out in the inland deserts of California (to grow alfalfa to grow cows to feed people.)

Colorado Snowpack
The water evaporates off the ocean and eventually falls down as condensed water or ice in the mountains.  Imagine the amount of energy it takes to lift up that large a mass and move it that great a distance!

Somewhere over the Four Corners area.  Not sure if this is the Colorado River or a tributary.  
The melted snow seeps into the soil and seeps into rivulets, creeks, small tributary rivers and then eventually into the mighty* Colorado River.  More than half of Colorado River water flow begins as groundwater.

Beginning in 1957, with the opening of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, trans-basin water diversions were moving water from the western side of the Continental Divide to the eastern side. Without this water, the massive population growth of the Colorado Front Range wouldn't have been possible.

Trans-basin water diversion map.
Want to learn more about Northern (Colorado) Water, the public agency that brings this water to millions?  Of course you do!

Visit the Northern Water Annual open house and conservation gardens fair next Saturday, May 21, 2016.   Walk this scale model of the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that deliver *half* of the water used by the Northern Colorado member communities (including Boulder.)  It's awe-inspiring to think about the amount of work that it takes to bring this volume and mass of water across the harsh alpine environment.

My favorite part is this landscape sculpture, which allows me to walk the journey of my Colorado tap water from mountain-top through tunnels, pipelines, and reservoirs.  It makes the monumental intimate.

Landscape art that makes this huge engineering and social project intimate.
Read Your Colorado Water Blog write-up about this event for more details.  I went last year with some gardening enthusiast friends.  I geeked out over the water engineering while they geeked out over the gardening booths.

Many, many Front Range nurseries set up booths at the fair to sell Colorado native plants that are rarely sold at commercial nurseries.  It's one-stop shopping for people who grow native and low-water gardens.  Plants, education, ideas and support from Colorado Extension master gardeners.

Whether I am in Boulder, Colorado, or in Los Angeles, the two parts of my life depend on the mighty* Colorado River.

* Anything that can carve the Grand Canyon and all the minor canyons you see here deserves the adjective mighty.  Anything that can bind my torn heart also deserves the adjective mighty.


  1. Thank you for sharing these concerns, as it's so interesting. Your work sounds as if it is truly vital. The best to you in both your family life and your professional endeavors.

  2. I would have been torn between the plant booths and the water engineering!

    1. @Jean I'd be torn, too, if I had a garden in CO. But, I live in a condo. I did cruise through the plant booths to get a sense of what is available.

  3. I'd have been torn as well. I'd like to plant more natives, even here in Tennessee. They rae relegated to the back though. One of the problems of living in a condo is that there are restrictions on what can be planted in the front yards


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