Water Contamination

Dean Lake in the Uinta Mountains is a beautiful and popular place. However, I would no longer want to drink the water without filtering it first.

Backpacking in Utah’s stunningly beautiful Uinta Mountains last week found us filtering water from the lake we were camped at. This should have been a pretty simple chore, but like dominoes falling, all three water filters we had brought failed in quick succession. With eight kids and three adults, this was a pretty serious issue. We got the smallest of the three working and soon discovered that keeping a dozen water bottles filled was a full-time job. Soon we had a pot boiling on the stove to augment our efforts. It worked, but I was glad we weren’t there for a week.

I worked in these same mountains for two summers, likely even this same lake, 39 years ago as part of a fisheries research crew. We never filtered or boiled the water. We tried to get our water from springs on the assumption that spring water at its source was purer but on occasion we had to drink right from the lake but we never got sick. I would not do that these days as the human presence at most lakes in the area is over 100 times what it was then (a group of 45 was setting up on the lake we camped at as we left and the parking lot was overflowing).

I arrived home to Island Park to an ongoing battle with water contamination. From Mack’s Inn to Harriman State Park and likely in a much wider area than that, wells were contaminated by coliform bacteria and in some cases, E. coli. Health Department officials indicated that this is a fairly common problem in late summer as the warm temperatures provide conditions that encourage bacterial growth.

Coliform bacteria in itself rarely makes one sick but can be dangerous to those with compromised immune systems, the elderly and infants and may indicate the presence of E. coli. Escherichia coli, or E. coli, on the other hand, is a different matter. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated.”

I reached out to a friend in Washington State who is a professional with water systems. I asked him how well-water gets contaminated and his response was immediate: Things done on the surface eventually work their way into the water table. He specifically mentioned new construction, new wells, livestock and pouring chemicals like used motor oil onto the ground. “It all goes down eventually,” he said. Our well log indicates that there is standing water at just 100 feet below (at least in our area) the hundreds of septic systems and homes around us. It doesn’t seem implausible that contaminants could make it down that far.

We have laws designed to protect our drinking water. We should be grateful for these laws. However, like most things in a free society like ours, enforcement efforts usually target only the most flagrant offenders. For the rest of us (over 50 percent of us depend on ground water for drinking), it is our personal responsibility to do our part in protecting the water we all depend upon. This is truly a case where individual acts, positive or negative, can and do make a difference.


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 Nature-track.com!

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