Gathering Water from Side Sources - Grand Canyon - Mountain Buzz

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Old 03-18-2019   #1
Livenswell's Avatar
Edgewood..., Not New...Not Mexico
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Gathering Water from Side Sources - Grand Canyon

Howdy Folks, hope allswell! Apologies in advance for the long wind below, but I'm hoping for some input to help ease my worried mind.

I'm looking for advice, tips, suggestions or any guidance on gathering water from side sources tributary to the main stem Colorado for filtration. Our 16-day trip to Diamond launches in early May '19, with 5 rafts, 9 souls.

The group has indicated its preference that - unless in an emergency, no alum is to be used in treating the drinking water. We'll start from Lee's with 50 gal.; however, I dont anticipate that lasting us to Phantom where we plan to top off so we'll need to filter at least once before Phantom, and then probably need to filter 2 more times below Phantom. I have the water source mileage guide:

We do plan to use alum to settle river water for dishes, handwash etc., but without alum, I dont expect to be able to settle the water from the main well enough for filtration so we are planning to gather from side sources, treat with Aqua Mira and settle overnite in several 5 gal. buckets, each with lid; and filter the following day through a two filter system (5u and 1u) with battery operated pump. We plan to camp near/at the water source we intend to use and would like to be able to settle at least 30 gallons of water at a time prior to filtration.

I've filtered from sides during hikes etc., but using a small scale backpacking unit. Correct me if I am wrong but at this scale (~30-40 gal. at a time) I am assuming that even fairly clear side water will need settling before filtration to avoid mucking up your filters ?

Other issues I have wondered about are in regard to filling empty dw containers with untreated water to haul it to where you can empty to buckets, settle and filter, then what about decontaminating the containers ? Is this a matter of dosing the container with light bleach and clean water, sloshing it and rinsing ? or is that asking for trouble? I'm leery of using the empty drinking water containers to haul untreated water to camp. Have thought about using 5gal. collapsible containers dedicated to hauling raw water and hauling them in a backpack? That would avoid fouling jugs but it would just be more shit to carry.

What about hauling? I know it will suck if/when we have to do it but, when it does, I was thinking I could fit a 5 gal scepter in an NRS Paragon back pack (similar to a pack frame, will hold a dry bag) and then hand-carry another 5 gal. scepter per trip back and forth a few times, of course there is a limit to that as well but I think we'll need to be prepared to do that.

Another wonder is what about shallow sources where its not so easy to just dip out buckets of water from waterfalls or deep plunge pools and empty right into containers? Of course those are where we want to go but if not available - would it be helpful in the shallow side creeks to use a small tarp and a pole weighted in midstream to backup a little water deep enough to avoid bumping the bottom and turbidity ? That might provide a little depth behind it to get a dipping bucket in there to speed things up from a less desirable, but clear source.

I've been down before on an mid-April to early May trip and during that trip, we filtered settled water directly from the main stem using alum and bleach. We had fairly clear water in the river for most the way and filtration and maintaining water supply wasn't an issue. This will be a different situation with having to more carefully plan dw needs, many thanks for any input from any of you Canyoneers out there who have been there and done that. Take Care - Livenswell

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Old 03-18-2019   #2
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Join Date: May 2006
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I'll only hit a couple points, not sure what the groups issue with alum is, but have you thought about using PACL instead? It's marketed under Water Wizard and works even better than alum and it's used in municipal water treatment.

I also like to use Aqua Mira, but I would suggest treating the water after filtering it. This also solves the issue of using the same containers for collection and clean water since it will disinfect the container and water at the same time. I've always used it as my last step, not first.
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Old 03-19-2019   #3
Mammoth Lakes, California
Paddling Since: 2009
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First the disclaimer: To be perfectly safe you need to filter and then boil or chemically treat all your water - see the Permit for information.

Now my personal experience: Most running side springs (if you know the water came out of the earth nearby) are safe to drink from. Avoid pooled or slowly seeping water. For Coffee, boiling pasta, potatoes, (things you boil anyway) etc. I have never had a problem with river water if it looks clean (too much sediment or algae can harbor bugs). The river is usually pretty sediment free before July. This can really help reduce the drinking water you'll need to carry.

Another note is that when it comes to chemical treatment, time is as important as quantity. 10 drops of bleach in 5 gallons of water works great if you let it sit for 24 hours.
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Old 03-19-2019   #4
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SLC, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2019
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1. Your plans are over-complicated unless there is some special need or experiment you are doing. Standard large manual ceramic filter pumps like the Katadyn Expedition will draw water directly out of side streams without excessive fouling. All the outfitters rent them. Or you can collect water in a bucket from shallow streams and filter from there. There is no need for two stage filtering anywhere and normal ceramic filters all have 0.2μ pore size.

Add 2-5 drops of bleach per gallon and let it sit half an hour, regardless of how you filter it. Or use Aquamira. This last step is probably not necessary, but the Park Service has seen some ugly outbreaks of norovirus and you want to be extra sure to prevent it.

2. The best place to get water in Marble Canyon is at Vaseys Paradise at mile 32. You cannot camp at Vaseys but you can easily filter 50 gallons quickly and the crew will enjoy the green, lush experience. That may last you to Phantom, but if not there is good water at Nankoweap or Lava and difficult to access (especially in summer!) water at Clear Creek. There is no need to camp at any of those water sources and they are all clear enough not to require any settling at all.

3. You can usually filter straight from the river if you have to. Use a settling bucket, but you don't have to wait long or use alum. Sometimes the river is brown and thick as in the November release or after late summer storms or even mid-winter storms so you can't depend on river water, but in May it's nearly always a clear green. The river water tastes slightly of Lake Powell so it's not ideal, but it won't hurt anyone.

4. Please skip the battery-operated pump. That's just inviting misery: Unreliable, noisy, and unnecessary. Large hand pumps filter a gallon a minute.

5. Please don't plan on camping by all your water sources. They are too few to guarantee access and often don't have any camping. Don't haul water long distances; bring some 5 gallon buckets. Keep untreated water out of your drinking water containers, partly because of contamination but mostly because you'll eventually make a mistake and drink untreated water that way. Don't build water projects in side streams using tarps or shovels; there's plenty of accessible water around.

6. Have a great time in Grand Canyon. It's delightful. Drink lots of water. Stay out of the May midday sun and splash through the big waves to get all the passengers wet.
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Old 03-19-2019   #5
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SLC, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2019
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Most running side streams are okay, but I'd avoid
  • Havasu (diarrhoea minerals and fecal coliform)
  • LCR (same)
  • Anything on river left between Phantom and Fossil (Uranium mining waste was dumped in the upper canyon here and some streams are also naturally salty)
  • Elves Chasm, included in the above but also because people frolic in it.
  • Diamond Creek (motor oil, axle grease, and tire repair gunk aplenty)

And anything else obviously foul or sketchy. When your nose and eyes tell you Pumpkin Spring is bad, trust them.
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Old 03-19-2019   #6
Fraser, Colorado
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Thanks for those thoughts on some of the water sources down there, Brian, hadnít thought of that before!

To what others have said, I will ad: water from river right generally tastes better, because it comes from a comepletly different auquafer, and has been there a much shorter time, therefore carrying fewer salts and bad tastes.

I have always done fine sanitizing jugs after untreated water, by a little bleach water thoughrally sloshed around jug and spigot. We have always done our filtering or treatment at whatever camp we were going to, just be sure to mark the jugs!

A good rule of thumb is to always fill jugs whenever there is a good water source, as long as there are enough emptyís to make it worth a stop

Have a great trip!
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Old 03-19-2019   #7
Central Point, Oregon
Join Date: Dec 2013
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We gather from side creeks in gama seal life on 5 gal buckets then use a gravity gilder at camp.
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Old 03-19-2019   #8
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Edgewood..., Not New...Not Mexico
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Agua Vida Amigos!

Thank you for the great advice and suggestions, I can clarify (pun) a few things to keep the details clear..ooh pun again! I digress... anyhow, the input is very helpful, thanks again.

The drinking water end of the trip is complicated due to the no alum policy, but its not my call. Some folks on the trip had a bad time on a trip with some alum overdosed water and vowed to strangle anyone else that might ever put it in the water again! I'm totally in on alum (or PACL) use and have no fear of its use or chemistry, I would be using alum as needed and pulling water right out of the river, I think it is fine so long as its not overdosed. As a rock-licker (geologist) I'm captivated by the Right side has better water mention, fascinating! Will have to keep that in mind and read into that some more.

I would like to avoid hauling the filter gear to the source (one less thing to carry) and to leave that end of operations at the boats. I was thinking of using the empty jugs to haul from the source when/if we have to and then disinfecting them afterwards with a little bleach rinse before refilling with filtered water and treating with aqua mira. Marking those jugs sounds like a lifesaver. Many folks have mentioned May as being likely good clear green water at least above LCR so I am hoping thats what we see most the way, last April-May is was certainly clear green so we'll see, might not even need to mess with side sources, juan never knows...

The filter system we are using is proven reliable and productive and we are going that route to save $$ rather than renting someone else's. The double filter idea was considered given the no alum so thought behind that was to prefilter some of the unsettled material there and catch the rest in the next, thinking might take longer to foul two. Its quiet and puts water out at a good rate, using little amps from battery that is dual purpose for charging electronics, i.e. InReach, camera etc. So the setup serves in a few ways

We definitely dont plan on camping on water sources, or creating any "water projects" ha! I want to try to plan for camps such as Nankoweap, RL at Deer Ck, OLO or Ledges, and then further down if necessary at about Spring Canyon or Three Springs where there is dw available near those river camps. I know Nankoweap and Deer Ck. and Ledges are good for dw, any experience with Spring Cyn or Three Springs?

Well alright, bow on my friends, take care and thanks for all the good vibes and great advice!
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Old 03-20-2019   #9
Fraser, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2001
Join Date: Dec 2011
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Wish I could remember exactly where I read that about different water tables between north and south rims. I think it may have been in one of Craig Childís books, or possibly Emerald Mile. I definitely have notised a difference!

We filled up some jugs at LCR last time, and, man, talk about salty and flavorful! And not really in a good way. Will admit that after I got home, that salty taste coming from one of my Nalgenes a few weeks later, definitely brought a smile to my face. We actually did not filter at all, only Aquamira, no one got sick ever, but filtering first, probably is safest I guess.

Have fun, wish I could beg to go on your trip, but I have used my olotment for the year, so will have to live vicariously through others trip planning
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Old 03-22-2019   #10
St. George, Utah
Paddling Since: 1974
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You might want to take a look at the area above Ledges before deciding to use that water. Lots of bighorns in that area and the water is also full of minerals. My experience is with five boats and nine people you should be good to Phantom that time of year if every boat carries 10 gallons and you watch the water consumption.

I suggest you read an article by Drifter Smith on proper alum use posted in BQR a while ago. He was a commercial guide and had more trips in GC than almost anyone. As others have said the Water Wizard is a lot quicker than alum, works great.
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