Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

August 16th, 1999

Water Water Everywhere

It wasn't always this way. Within my lifetime huge changes have occured in our waterways. There really was a time when you could drink from the stream or lake you fished.

JC and I became aware pristine water wasn't safe the hard way. Forgive me, this was also years ago. We've become so accustomed to being 'safe' where drinking water is involved it didn't occur to me to mention in this column until a friend mentioned the magic word - GIARDIA!

Here is how we got educated. JC and I had been doing some rock climbing. The altitude was somewhere about 7,000 ft., a hot day, in Montana. Not exactly on the beaten track. As we came down, we crossed a crystal clear, picture-postcard mountain stream. We stopped, washed our hands and faces in the stream, and took a nice drink.

I don't remember the time lapse, but in a day or so we were both VERY ill. Giadria. We took the prescribed meds, healed up and eventually went back to the same region. Being nosey, we walked upstream a bit - and found what was left of a decomposed cow in the water.

A couple of the folks on the FAOL Fish-In had some stomach problems after fishing a certain stream. They mentioned they hadn't drunk the water, but had their hands in the water, and probably transferred who knows whatever to their mouths.

It's hard to believe we have to be that particular when just around the water, but there had been some flooding in the area and perhaps some effluence of some kind did get into the water. We teach kids to keep their fingers and hands out of their mouths - but did anyone mention adults fishing?

There are all sorts of water containers available today, some with drink-tops, some with tubes, all very portable in your vest or jacket. I also carry a couple of those hand-wipes packaged in foil in my vest. They have a high alcohol content and would clean me up enought to eat something with my fingers. (At least it has worked so far.)

If you are camping somewhere outside an organized camp facility (where water has to be tested and approved) you have some choices. Take water from home, or boil the water for 3 to 5 minutes which is still the most reliable method (throw your drinking cup in too). Alternatively you can purchase a bottle of treatment tablets, Potable Aqua is one brand which will treat about fifty quarts of water for about $7.00. Cheap insurance. If you can't stand the chemical taste, or turbidity which isn't removed, that leaves filter pumps.

Could there be something really bad 
up around the bend? I'm not an expert on filter pumps, but they do work, removing just about anything except color. The prices range from $25 to $250. I'm told the more expensive ones will filter out even the nastiest of viruses.

Fly fishermen seem to be a very trusting bunch. We certainly don't like to think the water we love to fish could harm us. In today's world it certainly can. I wonder if it is even possible to find water that has not been affected by over-population, agriculture or pollution.

Watch yourself out there - a case of the nasties can put a severe crimp in an otherwise wonderful outting. ~ LadyFisher

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