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skeleton 06-12-2011 03:12 PM

Why is mountain water yellow? (seriously)
Last weekend I cycled up Mt Seymour with a friend. After arriving at the top, I had depleted my two water bottles, so I looked for a road-side stream to refill them.

There were numerous streams from snow melt. The stream we choose was very fast moving; it was an outfall from a culvert that crossed under the road. My bottle was pure white plastic; when I looked into the bottle with the freshly filled water I noted that the color was a mild yellow. There was no sedimentation noted. We elected to continue our ride while foregoing the yellowing water. I refilled the bottles at the bottom from a gas station, which I could see their water to be clear (white in the plastic bottle).


1) Given our location (on the Seymour Mtn road, about 500 meters below the parking lot), is the water probably fresh snow melt. As it is Spring time, can we presume the water is safe to drink, unfiltered?

2) What gives this water its yellowing tinge? Is this merely surface dirt in suspension? 06-12-2011 03:19 PM

My guess would be various organic compounds?


OK Jack 06-12-2011 03:38 PM

Plant pigments or algae...

alexcanuck 06-12-2011 05:27 PM

As it is Spring time, can we presume the water is safe to drink, unfiltered?

No! Won't kill you, probably won't even make you sick at all, but might. Animals of all leg counts pee and poop in the snow all winter, once melt has left the snow it has joined up with true surface water, it is potentially contaminated. Fresh snow is safe, old snow might not be. Old snow that you collected and saw nothing but pure white in the surrounding snow is almost certainly safe.
That said I have no qualms about drinking fresh melt from above treeline except around where people camp.

And never ever ever accept a lemon snowcone from your buddy.

time2clmb 06-12-2011 07:20 PM

I drink from streams and rivers all the time and am not overly picky but a road side culvert below the Seymour parking lot is probably one of the spots I would not drink from.

weegit 06-12-2011 07:56 PM

As a general rule of thumb, I never drink from a water source that has passed through/underneath tarmac, people's backyards, frequently used campsites, or a mountain goat snow toilet zone. I worry more about petro-chemical runoff leeching through the soil and human bacteria than I do about giardia etc..

Peat content often colours sub alpine streams from yellow to red; especially if the source is shallow. If you hike the beaches of Haida Gwaii, you may find yourself drinking extremely reddish water- a combination of minerals and loamy soil with high organic content.

Generally, greenish to light yellow occurs from all the chlorophyll in evergreen detritus decomposing in the water.

rocker_man1 06-12-2011 08:02 PM

I think the snow peed

Fram 06-12-2011 08:28 PM

Some water sources are yellow due to tannins from the cedar trees

WildernessMan 06-12-2011 08:46 PM

what Fram said, most possibly from tannins from cedar and hemlock debris in the stream

HairyEyebrow 06-12-2011 08:58 PM

Personally I would never drink from anything below treeline without treating it. Not that I know anything, it's just my line in the sand. I would think there could be thousands of reasons why the roadside water might have a yellow tinge. I would avoid it regardless of the season. But then again, what do I know.

brucew 06-12-2011 09:22 PM

I'll go with bark tannins as well. just remember things crawl into culverts and occasionally die. Take more water with you next time to avoid possibilities.

Aqua Terra 06-12-2011 10:17 PM

I know of several streams that seem to come from "clean, unspoiled sources" yet they resemble some sort of mild tea colour in the creek bed. I would not sample anything trickling down seymour at all.

Ryan Conroy 06-12-2011 10:19 PM

Eat coconut fat, it protects you from bacteria. Then you can drink all the runoff from my fvourite winter trail running pissing spot you want!

tu 06-12-2011 10:25 PM

The colour aside, I'll state that Spring skiing on Seymour involves route finding near the bottom around all the dog bombs from the season past rising to the snow surface, and afterwards scraping off from the ski bases all the sticky dirt and grime accumulated in the snow from a well-populated ski operation.

Would you ever drink runoff below a small town?

skeleton 06-12-2011 11:58 PM

All very good suggestions and advise. Thanks to everyone for sharing their insight.

From now on I'll take a filter bottle when traveling that route.

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