A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A few folks have inquired about the connection of water to rainbows.  Few things in life are more visually appealing than rainbow colors.  My first encounter was when my father took me on my first fishing trip away from our home in Central Wyoming when I was eight years old. We stopped at many natural places along the way, he provided explanations of the natural phenomena as best he could which I later found to be mostly true, and sometimes exaggerated when it came to things like poisonous snakes.  But the one stop that made a lasting impact on me were the World's Largest Mineral Hot Springs at Thermopolis.  The springs are unusual politically as there is a treaty between the US and the Native Americans that address the use and management of the springs.  The springs are unique in that many of the larger springs discharge behind a large apron of travertine, the calcium carbonate deposits that form as the water discharges at the ground surface.  The travertine is a common by-product of discharging thermal waters.  But after spending most of my career studying and personally examining thermal springs, I found the travertine deposits to be fairly unique to the springs.  For example, the famous Pamukkale springs in Turkey are referred to as "the cotton castle" because the travertine terraces approach 300 feet in height and are nearly pure white.  The travertine terraces at Thermopolis are referred to as the "rainbow terraces" because variable colored bacteria once adorned the surface of the terraces. Today the terraces are not so varicolored because everyone wants their own pipe from the big spring, so much of the water needed to sustain the bacteria is diverted and the the bacteria on the terraces have died. This picture is a colorized postcard, about the only record of what they looked like long ago.  I was so intrigued by the springs and the bacteria that I completed my master's thesis on the Thermopolis Hot Springs.

As a very young research assistant working in the Grand Canyon 30 years ago, I "saw the light" between the connection of rainbows and the colors of water.  Here I am standing in the Painted Desert in Arizona and what do I see over the rainbow? Blackwater!

And as described in the colors of logo for The Rainbow Water Coalition, I observed a parade of rainbow-colored flags while traveling in Peru long ago with another colorful person, Dr. Peter Huntoon.  Dr. Huntoon is legendary for his work as a world-class karst hydrologist, historian of paper money, and for striking fear and terror into all of his graduate students.  On more than one occasion, he sprinkled a variety of colored water on a few drafts of my thesis. My favorite was a single large purple arrow scrawled across a page.  For those Huntoon students out there, you know what I mean.  Many folks in the water business don't connect skilled water management with the Incans, but one visit to Macchu Picchu will convince you of their expertise in water use.  And so you now know the rest of the story.

Returning to the "dark grey" issue of kitchen sink wastewater, I have been exploring treatment options, and discovered yet another clever greywater treatment system designed and built by the Australians which is featured as the Greywater Gadget of the Week.  And if you have been following the comments on past postings, you would have discovered that an Australian-based company specializing in greywater systems is opening a shop in Eugene, Oregon next month.  This just might be Oregon's pot o' gold within the spectrum of the rainbow of "green" living initiatives that Oregon is promoting.

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