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August 13, 2013 > Reflections on Water

Reflections on Water

By ACWD Public Information Supervisor Frank Jahn, Photo by Frank Jahn

A peal of thunder woke me from a sound sleep as I lay in my tent on a ridge above Ostrander Lake in Yosemite National Park. A moment later my tent lit up as a bolt of lightning split the sky and then the thunder rolled again.

"If I'd thought there was even the slightest chance of a thunderstorm, there's no way I would have camped on an exposed ridge under the tallest tree around," I thought to myself as my heart raced. Unfortunately, I was now perfectly positioned to become the next lightning strike fatality.

My hike had started routinely enough two days earlier when I had picked up my wilderness permit at the ranger station. "Be sure to keep your food in a bear resistant canister at all times," the ranger reminded me. "Bury your poop at least six inches underground and carry out your used toilet paper," he continued. In other words, standard wilderness etiquette any conscientious backpacker follows.

For most of that day, the trail was hot, dry, and dusty. Water sources that should have been reliable were nothing but dry creek beds, forcing me to ration the water I had begun the day with. By late afternoon, my mouth had grown parched, my water bottle now empty.

At 5:15 I reached Royal Arch Lake, a beautiful gem bordered by flowering meadows and an imposing granite wall etched with a graceful arch. Before I could admire the beauty, however, my thirst called. But before I could slake my thirst, I had to purify some lake water. Sure, it looked clean, but the little critters just waiting to wreak havoc in my digestive tract couldn't be seen with the naked eye.

And so I pulled out one of my favorite pieces of backcountry technology - a miniature wand that emits ultraviolet light. When swirled in a bottle of questionable water, the light kills anything that might do me harm.

After treating some water and drinking my fill, I set up camp, ate dinner, and then drifted off to sleep in one of the most wonderfully silent locations I have ever experienced.

The next day included a walk through a magnificent natural wildflower garden. Despite the dry conditions, these flowers seemed perfectly content with whatever amount of water Mother Nature decided to throw at them. The area hummed with the activity of bees and other insects seeking nectar. The day ended on a ridge above Ostrander Lake, overlooking the breathtaking granite peaks and domes of Yosemite.

Which brings us back to that unexpected thunderstorm.

Not wanting to become another statistic, I exited my tent and walked downhill to a grove of trees where a lightning bolt would find me a less attractive target. I waited out the brief storm and then returned to my night's sleep.

Upon crawling out of my tent in the morning, I was greeted by smoke so thick that it obscured the beautiful views of the night before. Afraid that a lightning-caused forest fire might be bearing down upon me, I ate a hurried breakfast and hightailed it down the trail to my car. Two hikers I met along the way assured me the smoke was from a fire far to the south.

As I lay in bed that night, I mentally relived the trip I had just completed. As I did, I was struck by the way in which water seemed to play a central role in so much of it. And the thought occurred to me: what a perfect introduction to the monthly column ACWD will be contributing to the Tri-City Voice.

For you see, the ranger's reminder to bury my poop and carry out my used toilet paper touches upon the role that water plays in everyday sanitation (aren't flushing toilets great?!).

The dry creek beds I encountered bore mute testimony to the driest January - June the Sierras have ever seen in recorded history (a dry spell that is now impacting the reservoirs we depend upon for our drinking water).

My attempts at rationing my limited water supply were reminiscent of the water conservation measures we should all be following while the drought tolerant wildflowers I passed were a reminder of how beautiful and water-efficient our yards could be if we replaced our lawns with native landscaping.

And of course, my little ultraviolet light is simply a miniature version of state-of-the-art technology that is being used to purify water for entire cities.

Finally, the trip was a reminder that water has many uses, from putting out a forest fire to washing off the grime after a long hike.

Over the coming months, we'll be exploring these topics and others, using our own personal experiences as springboards for our thoughts. We hope you enjoy our reflections, for ultimately, it all comes back to water.

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