An overlook of Green River from Island in the Sky.
“Where is all the water…where can I find a clear gravel-bottom creek?” — Lettie Jones, Donny Brook
I’ll be back with more thoughts on this quote it in a minute.
As has been my occasional practice since I began to rant about rivers on July 8, 2018 — my 71st birthday — I tie this post to an important date in my life: A 43rd wedding anniversary! Thanks for hanging in, Ms. Betty, particularly with this last phase of obsession about our national environmental regression!
First, I must mention two court cases that could have a significant impact on our Ozarks waters for years to come.
On Oct. 30, Missouri State Circuit Judge Daniel Green denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit to overturn Senate Bill 391, a recent State of Missouri legislative effort to strike down all county health ordinances established over the years to regulate confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) locally. Now depositions begin in preparation for a Dec. 9 court date. YEA!
On Sept. 27, the Missouri Supreme Court heard a related lawsuit to reverse 2016 State Legislature changes to the composition of the Missouri Clean Water Commission — the body that issues CAFO permits. YEA!
Some background on why both are so important: Until 2016, it was required that the seven member Missouri Clean Water Commission have a majority of non-affiliated, independent commissioners, with minority representation from agriculture, mining, and other industries.
This requirement was eliminated by the state legislature after the Commission rejected several controversial CAFO permits in 2015. Those of us who opposed these permits were replaced with ag-friendly representatives, who immediately overturned our rulings, and imposed CAFOs on small communities who had organized against them.
With the commission now stacked with agricultural interests the lawsuit to overturn SB 391 and protect local health ordinances becomes even more critical, until and unless the courts restore the historic requirement for independent representation.
If all this bores to you sleep, I apologize. However, there is a lot riding on these two court cases when it comes to protecting Ozarks waters into the future.
While it is only fiction, her reaction to traveling to southern Utah, as quoted above, brings home a central point for me: If you ever start to take for granted our bountiful and beautiful Ozarks waters, go west.
My wife and I just returned from a hiking trip which led us through west Texas, eastern New Mexico, western Colorado, southern Utah, Death Valley, southern California, Arizona, and back. So many exceptionally beautiful and unique landscapes! But….
This journey provided the answer to my heroine’s question: “Where is all the water?” Nowhere!
It’s not quite that bleak. My general non-expert observation is that waters of the west — such as the Colorado, Green, Rio Grande and San Juan rivers — are generally big, concentrated, and spectacular, but brown and overused.
Along the way, the Ogallala Aquifer is shrinking as groundwater discharges at a faster rate than it replenishes in the corporate farmlands of Nebraska, Kansas, eastern Colorado and west Texas.
In Cochise County, Arizona, unregulated mega-farms are drying up residential wells and putting family farms out of business, according to a provocative NBC News article from Sept. 17.
The fabled Colorado River no longer even reaches the sea, and its dammed enclosures display sinking waterlines on slick rock sides.
Colorado River beneath Arches National Park
It is clear that population growth and increasing corporate production have long since outgrown natural water sources and tables.
Mind you, it still quickens the pulse to view the mighty Green River from atop “Island in the Sky” in Canyonlands National Park. Its waters rush to merge with the Colorado River where John Wesley Powell pursued his efforts to explore the Grand Canyon a century and a half ago.
And driving into Moab, Utah, along the Colorado River beneath the magical rock formations of Arches National Park poignantly contrasts extreme land and water in color and tone.
Even the gnarly San Juan River — the most silted major river in the country, where at times during spring runoff standing waves in rapids seem to simply stand — has a peculiar beauty to it!
The San Juan River is shown near Bluff, Utah.
Ultimately, western waters are spoken for. Their fates are sealed.
But the fate of Ozarks waters lies in our hands and protective instincts. It is always a relief to return to them, both for inspiration and sustenance. We must protect them, at any and all cost.
(One other note: In case you’re interested, click here to see a recent OzarksWatch video interview I did with Dr. Jim Baker. It runs 25 minutes and is filmed live on the banks of Swan Creek. We touch on water quality issues as well as family history.)