Clean Water When Camping

Clegg Lake, at 10,400 feet, seems to be a beautiful and clean source of water. Don’t take a chance though, treat the water before drinking!

We watched a pair of muskrats swim slowly across Clegg Lake in the Uinta Mountains of Utah.  Their small bodies made ripples in the otherwise perfect reflection of Bald Mountain looming above. The sky was blue with just a few fluffy clouds and three of my grandkids fished nearby. A few more fish would have been great, but otherwise it was a perfect scene—until I realized that we were going to have to drink that water.

There was a time when I didn’t give water purification much thought. When I worked in these same mountains 35 years ago, we would just look for source water such as a spring and so long as it wasn’t trampled by livestock, we were good to go. Not so today. Partly it is because I am more aware of potential pollutants, but it is also because conditions have changed out in the woods, even the wilderness. For instance, on the popular trail that passes by Clegg Lake, we watched well over 100 backpackers file by on Friday alone.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to purify water and make it fit to drink. First though, we need to dispel one persistent myth. In my scouting days as a youth, we were told that moving water is purified every so often and the more roily the water was, the faster that happened. Actually, just the reverse is true. Cysts, chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants may settle to the bottom mud in still water. Moving water keeps it all stirred up but it doesn’t magically destroy or disperse the pollutants. So, select your water from the stillest portion of the stream as possible and don’t stir up the stuff on the bottom and you have the best you can get without some sort of treatment.

There are four basic ways to purify water on the trail: chemical treatment, heating, filtration and UV light. All have advantages and disadvantages.

There are a number of products that chemically treat water and make it safe to drink. Chlorine dioxide tablets, unscented household chlorine bleach, 2% iodine tincture or iodine tablets all work. They may add a chemical taste to the water that you can mask with fruit juice mixes. For chlorine bleach and iodine, use eight drops per gallon for clear water and 16 drops for less than clear water. Iodine is great against bacteria and viruses but isn’t so good against giardia, a protozoan. You can improve its effectiveness by making sure the water is at least 60 degrees F when you treat it. Chlorine degrades with time so always use fresh bleach. All of these products require time (at least 30 minutes) to be effective. You cannot treat and drink immediately.

If you can keep water at 160 degrees F for at least six minutes, it will kill all the nasties in it. Even at high elevation, boiling for one to three minutes usually accomplishes this. Heating water to this temperature requires either a stove or abundant firewood. I rarely count on it as I don’t want to haul the extra fuel and I don’t like to blacken my pots over a fire.

Next week I will cover the last two methods along with some tips on getting the cleanest water possible when camping.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho