Snow melt and spring rains causing cloudy drinking water

Photo by Loretta Yerian.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. – Every spring Grand Canyon National Park experiences an increase in turbidity in the drinking water which is caused by snow melt and spring rains.

The increase in run off from snow and rain helps recharge the aquifer and occurs every year from March through June.

The increased water flows through rock formations to the point of supply for the park’s public water supply system.

As water flows through these rock formations, very small particles of inorganic material are dissolved from the rock and are held in suspension in the water. This suspended inorganic material is too small to be removed by the centrifugal separation process used at Roaring Springs and remains in the potable water. These particles of dissolved rock and minerals appear in the potable water as a slight tint or a noticeable cloudiness. The extent of the turbidity is directly proportional to the amount of snow melt and rainwater that flows through the rock formations.

This annual event has been exhaustively researched and evaluated for the past twenty-two years by the National Park Service (NPS), independent laboratories, the US Public Health Service and by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). The turbidity is caused by dissolved inorganic material such as silicates and calcium precipitates suspended in the water.

The Roaring Springs Water Risk Assessment performed in August 1995 states: “Particle characterization testing though the use of electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectrometry indicate that the turbidity are comprised of silicon, aluminum, oxygen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. This indicates that the particles are from common sedimentary rock”. No organic materials have been identified during these investigations of the turbidity causes.

Although this dissolved inorganic material causes the water to be slightly cloudy, the dissolved material is well below maximum contaminate levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is not harmful to health.

Turbidity has no health effects but can interfere with the disinfection processes practiced at the park and may provide a medium for microbial growth. For those reasons, we routinely increase the chlorine residual of the drinking water and increase our microbiological water sampling and testing throughout this spring period of increased turbidity to insure that the drinking water is adequately disinfected. The increased chlorine dosage and the enhanced microbiological monitoring and testing is maintained until the turbidity drops to the normal values of less than 1.0 NTU, usually by late June or early July.

Grand Canyon operates a Public Water Supply System licensed and approved by the EPA and by the ADEQ. All potable water provided by the system must meet federal and state standards at all times. Although this turbidity can cause cloudiness in the potable water, it does not create a health risk to the public.


Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.