Magic Waters?
Spring near Nederland, Colorado has healing powers, devotees say

By Story by Todd Neff, Camera Staff Writer August 1, 2004

Some of the purest spring water on Earth flows from a 1-inch, black plastic pipe poking out of a barn, and those who drink it swear it's making them healthier.

Day and night, the water pours at a leisurely pace of two gallons a minute. What doesn't land in heavy glass jugs trickles across a sloping dirt parking lot until it finds the man-made pond.

Charlie Morgan made the pond, the parking lot and the barn, which houses horses, chickens and, on the second floor, himself, his wife, Diane, and nephew Chance. It's all a part of "Uncle Charlie's Ranch" on Gilpin County Road 15S, about a mile past the U.S. Forest Service's Pickle Gulch Campground and a few miles from Black Hawk.

The gold-mining town of Wideawake once stood here, Morgan says, and the abandoned Gold Mountain mine looms uphill. By the time he bought the roughly 50 acres for $40,000 a decade ago, mature trees had grown amid the piles of tailings. He bought a front-end loader for $20,000 and has used it heavily enough that the place has the feel of a golf course under construction.

Morgan, 43, wears a white straw cowboy hat and black Wrangler jeans. His hair is a mane of sandy blond with a tinge of gray near the ears. He is a big man with the heavy arms of a former weightlifter. His glasses are thicker than you expect.

He speaks in an unhurried drawl that grows emphatic when the topic of water arises.

Five years ago, he decided to live on his land. For power, he fashioned a hydroelectric pump and a solar cell. For water, he went looking for springs.

In a clearing shaded by mature evergreens, he came across a natural pool.

"There's still gold, but the water's the real gold," Morgan says, looking at the patch of earth he filled and covered to protect the spring.

He and Diane were going to be drinking it, so he had the water tested.

"I've been in the business for 20 years. I work all over America, and I've never seen anything so clean," says Shawn Leppert, a Golden-based groundwater specialist who has seen the water's test results and periodically drinks it himself.

At first, Morgan just drank it, as well. But word got out about his water, and people started showing up to drink it — first friends, then friends of friends.

Morgan started a water business and called it Nature's Reward. The water's devotees say it can do away with everything from aches and pains to cancer.

But then, some experts think the same is true with about any water at all.

Kidney stones to cancer

Uncle Charlie's Ranch is a place where a man with no neighbors and a weakness for big mechanical objects can live large. The property, at an elevation of 10,000 feet and sandwiched between the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests, is decorated with immobile vehicles and farm equipment in various states of repair.

In a sort of junk yard above the barn are an old school bus, Morgan's dad's '59 pickup, a broken snowmobile, a go-cart that appears permanently stopped, the oxidized guts of a Model-T engine whose crankshaft extends to a saw blade forever frozen.

For Morgan's water, people have traded everything from bales of hay (five horses and several chickens live in the barn) to used trucks. A postal-delivery van and an International 190 semi-trailer, both whitewashed, are parked about the property; Morgan traded his water — although he's not sure how much — for both.

"It's kind of addicting," says Tim Frei, a friend of Morgan's who drives up from Mead to get some water every month or so. "I don't drink anything else."

Nancy Maresh, 58, of Boulder is among the 30 or so customers on Morgan's water delivery route. Each Wednesday he fills the back of his Chevy Suburban with as many jugs as will fit, exchanging them for cash or checks (the delivered water costs between $15 and $20 per five-gallon bottle, depending on how long you've been a customer) and empty glass jugs.

Maresh also drinks a gallon of the water a day in addition to cooking with it, and she says it seems to help wash away body aches from all her falls as a one-time member of the U.S. women's downhill ski team. She says the water also seems to cut her appetite.

"I just feel so much better," Maresh says. "This is the finest water I've ever found anywhere in the country."

Morgan says his cuts heal faster and the aches and pains from old weightlifting injuries are gone.

"I feel better than I have in my whole life," he says.

He wonders if it's a fountain of youth.

"There's this 12-year-old boy who lives up in the mountains who just won't grow," Morgan says, referring to his nephew Chance, 12, who Morgan thinks is stuck at 4 feet 9 because of the water. "And it'll turn a woman's skin to silk. Every woman."

Then there's a guy from Arizona who had a growth on his foot "bigger than a tennis ball." He drank 10 or 20 gallons and the growth was gone, Morgan says.

The water appears to have dissolved cancers and done away with kidney stones, ulcers, headaches and anxiety, as well, he says.

His own mother, Julia Morgan, who drinks the water and also soaks in it, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer seven months ago. She was given two months to live at the time.

A Hopi shaman pulled up in a recreational vehicle and spent a week drinking it and taking baths.

"I just think it can help people," Morgan says. "We call it magic water."

What's in the water

Water tests supplied by Morgan show his water to be unique in terms of what it doesn't have. Unlike water from snowmelt — the source of the city of Boulder's water — prolonged contact with underground rock tends to elevate a spring water's mineral content.

A bottle of Evian, for example, has 300 parts per million of dissolved minerals. Morgan's water has roughly one-tenth as much. By comparison, Eldorado Natural Spring Water, also considered pure and low in minerals for a spring water, has 82 parts per million of total dissolved solids.

Like Eldorado's, the primary minerals in Morgan's water are sodium, calcium and magnesium, all considered beneficial in water.

High mineral content doesn't necessarily make for a lower-quality spring water. Within limits, dissolved solids can make water more attractive — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines mineral waters such as Evian as having more than 250 parts per million of dissolved minerals.

"You don't normally find water on the planet that has only 30 (ppm) total dissolved solids," says Jock Bell, co-founder of Trinity Springs Water in Idaho. "As far as the source itself, it would be called a very class-act water on the planet."

Shawn Leppert, the groundwater specialist, attributes the purity of Morgan's water to the ground beneath.

"Whatever bedrock area that spring's drawing from is very stable, coarse media that's not dissolving minerals into the water," Leppert says.

Amy Struthers, the city of Boulder's drinking-water coordinator, says Morgan's dissolved-mineral content was comparable to that of the Boulder water supply, which comes from a variety of snowmelt-charged reservoirs. Snowmelt, with little time to soak up minerals, tends to be "soft," she says.

Chris Rudkin, Boulder's water-quality coordinator, sees similarities between Morgan's water and Eldorado Natural Spring Water, as well.

"This water is much like Eldorado Springs' — neutral pH and fairly soft," Rudkin says.

What both Morgan's and Eldorado's spring water lack is chlorine and other chemical additives used to ensure safe municipal water.

Bottled-water companies can take a chemical-free route.

At the source in Eldorado Springs, the company shines water with bacteria-killing ultraviolet light, and does so again after it arrives via tanker truck in Louisville where it's bottled, says Eldorado co-founder Jeremy Martin.

Morgan says he knows the health regulations. His bottling area for deliveries is in an enclosed shed he built, lined with black plastic, and not the barn pipe used by those filling up themselves. But he hasn't been regulated by the state, he says.

"If he is retailing bottled water, he needs to be in compliance with the federal requirements for bottled water," says Susan Parachini, wholesale food manufacturing and storage program manager of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The regulations include weekly testing for bacteria and some systematic means of disinfection, she says.

"You may get a sample that tests clean, but who knows what happens when you put it in a bottle and store it," she says.

Water and health

Colorado's many springs won acclaim as centers for healing and revitalization more than a century ago. During the pre-antibiotic, pollution-heavy times of the industrial revolution, "a few weeks in the rarefied Colorado air, dousing oneself with pure mineral water, was a romantic tonic," writes Deborah Frazier in her book, "Colorado's Hot Springs."

Frazier writes that the local springs were credited with "curing cancer, baldness, arthritis, kidney disease, glaucoma, sterility, gout, mental illness and asthma" — although such claims "sound far-fetched today."

Some think it's not far-fetched at all. They would say, though, that it has nothing to do with Charlie Morgan's or anybody else's local water.

Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, a Virginia medical doctor, has been writing books such as "Your Body's Many Cries for Water" and giving talks to medical groups on the health benefits of water for years. His central thesis: We're all dehydrated, and being dried out kicks off a complex chain of biochemical events that can lead to everything from ulcers to arthritis to cancer.

Batmanghelidj discovered what he calls the healing power of water while imprisoned in post-revolutionary Iran. For want of medicine, he prescribed a man with severe stomach ulcers two glasses of water. It stopped the pain.

Batmanghelidj says he thinks the water hydrated the stomach's protective mucous layer, which then trapped more acid-neutralizing bicarbonate.

With arthritis and joint pain, he points out that cartilage is largely composed of water. With asthma, dehydration causes greater histamine production in the lungs, which is the body's attempt to constrict bronchial passages and slow respiratory evaporation, he says. And with age comes a dulled perception of thirst, which makes things worse, he says.

"Avoiding dehydration in the body and recognizing the complications of dehydration are the basics for the science of medicine in the future," he says.

Complications of dehydration include fibromyalgia, colitis, migraine headaches, obesity, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, osteoporosis, attention-deficit disorder and Alzheimer's disease, among others, Batmanghelidj says. And eight to 10 glasses a day of plain old tap water are all you need to counter it, he says.

"By and large, the body taps into water, and then you get minerals from food," Batmanghelidj says.

Might it be that Morgan's customers feel better simply because they are drinking more water?

Dr. Paul Berger, whose practice at Boulder Community Hospital's Holistic Medical Center blends Western and alternative medical philosophies, says he thinks it's possible.

"Water is absolutely critical to health," he says.

In addition, he says, the placebo effect could be a "huge" — and useful — phenomenon.

"It can be a wonderful thing. A number of maladies in the body can be resolved by thinking that you're getting better," he says.

Berger says soaking in a bath can deliver real physical benefits, as well. The body relaxes, stress-related adrenaline drops off and cells get a break, he says.

"There's an organic-chemical benefit from feeling good," he says.

John Douillard, who practices ayurvedic, or ancient Hindu, and chiropractic sports medicine from his LifeSpa offices in Gunbarrel, says hydration generally benefits health. But Douillard says he thinks Morgan's water may be something special.

Water enters body tissue single-file through channels called aquaporins in the cell membrane. Still, Douillard, says, "if the water has lots of backpacks — cola, lemonade, Kool Aid — your body has to take them off."

The end result of drinking pure water is easier and deeper hydration, which promotes more efficient removal of toxins in the body, he says.

Eldorado Natural Spring Water's Martin says he has heard customers attribute all sorts of health benefits to his company's water, as well — relief from arthritis and allergies among them.

"You'll hear general things — I have more energy, I think clearer, I function better," he says. "It runs the gamut and affects people in different ways, and it's all related to having more water in the body," he says.

Stephen Lower, a retired professor of chemistry whose AquaScams Web site attempts to debunk inflated claims of water sellers, says water is water, assuming it's not tainted.

"For 70-plus years I've been drinking tap water, and I don't think I can be any healthier than I am now," he says. "The differences are so minimal they would probably be buried in so many other lifestyle choices we make."

Healing waters indeed?

Sarah Yoakum, 41, sits mostly submerged in a secondhand, green tub tucked inside one of several of outbuildings Morgan has constructed on his property. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996, she has driven two hours from Berthoud twice a week for Morgan's water since March.

The tub is heated by a rusted wood stove that Morgan built from scrap metal. Inside, logs glow red.

Yoakum says she drinks a gallon a day in addition to the baths in Morgan's bathhouse that cost her $40 per two-hour soak.

She has far less pain, she says, and the water seems to be countering the degenerative effects of the disease. A former Left Hand Water District manager, she's now helping Morgan with Nature's Reward.

"It's kind of a metaphysical experience," Yoakum says from the tub.

Last Sunday, Morgan had 22 bathers, requiring him to "haul out the horse troughs," in which guests apparently soaked without complaint. Morgan has no doubt the water's special.

"In a couple of years, that spring water I've got will definitely be known as one of the best healing waters in the world. It's a gift from God — it's something."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Todd Neff at (303) 473-1327 or nefft@dailycamera.com.