The Water Cycle

USGS Water Cycle
The total volume of water on our planet has remained the same for several billion years. The majority of this water is on the Earth’s surface, and about 97 percent is saline ocean water. Another 2 percent is trapped as polar ice. A mere 1 percent is available as freshwater and more than half of that is contained in underground aquifers. Scarce freshwater resources provide the water needed for daily living; these include surface water sources such as streams, rivers, and lakes, and groundwater sources. Freshwater is recycled as it continuously moves through the natural water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle (USGS Website, 2011). When water is used by humans, it is diverted from its natural cycle before being treated and returned to the environment.  Ideally, treated wastewater is returned to the natural cycle with minimal environmental effects. 

Drinking water treatment technology makes it possible to deliver clean water to homes and businesses; delivery occurs through a network of pipes called a distribution system.  Treatment processes vary depending on whether surface or groundwater is used, and the quality of the source water.  The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (District) and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority (Authority) are committed to providing safe, reliable drinking water to the communities they serve. 

Drinking water treatment facilities use a combination of treatment processes appropriate for the treatment of raw water, which may contain small amounts of impurities from natural and human sources.  Such treatment processes are designed to produce drinking water quality that meets or exceeds the quality standards mandated by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

An average American family of four uses up to 400 gallons of water daily (EPA Website, 2011).  Used water is called “wastewater” and contains biological solids, dirt, soaps, food, grease, and anything else that goes down the drain.  Wastewater from households and businesses travels to a treatment facility via a network of underground pipes called a collection system. 

Each water-related activity in a home creates wastewater and can potentially harm water quality. Because wastewater is returned to its source, downriver users depend on safe, effective treatment processes to ensure water quality as water continues to be utilized downstream. Making informed water choices, both inside and outside of the home, makes water treatment less expensive and more efficient. More importantly, this protects the environment and ensures quality of life.  At times, drinking water is obtained from the same waterways that receive wastewater discharges; attention to the proper disposal of toxic chemicals will help protect the health of downstream users and the aquatic environment.

The District manages and operates three wastewater treatment facilities and one biosolids containment facility.  Wastewater treatment facilities remove pollutants from municipal wastewater, making it safe to return back to the environment.  Wastewater is pumped into a wastewater treatment plant, screened, aerated, settled, and sanitized through a series of treatment processes.  Effluent is the final product of wastewater treatment and may be discharged into a nearby creek, river, or other water source, which then moves downstream for another community to use.  Therefore, it is essential that wastewater be treated in a way that protects the environment and human health. Wastewater effluent quality is analyzed and monitored to ensure that it meets or exceeds the water quality standards set forth in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act. In fact, wastewater standards often exceed drinking water standards because aquatic species are more sensitive than humans to certain contaminants. Biosolids, a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process, contain the organic components removed from wastewater and can be used as a soil amendment for some land applications such as landscaping.  

Water is a renewable, but limited resource.  It is renewable because the same amount of water perpetually passes through the water cycle.  It is limited because a very small percentage of the Earth’s fresh water is available in an accessible form.  Water is necessary for life.  Locally, it is important to focus on the watershed; the District and Authority are committed to watershed health and protection.  Vail Valley watersheds consist largely of the high altitude alpine land areas that feed the Eagle River and Gore Creek.  These pristine and balanced watersheds are not immune to the impacts of human activity, wildlife impacts, and other natural disturbances.  Effective water resource management is necessary to protect our standard of living, quality of life, and the health of our wildlife habitats and ecosystems. This is made possible through forging partnerships with other watershed stakeholders to study, monitor, manage, and protect one of our most precious of resources – water.