When the Dam Bursts (Earth Day—April 22, 2013)

April 22 Earth Day UPDATE: A list of 13 ways to support food production and the environment. A personal video about a universal thought–thanking farmers for the food and environment work they do. And check the links below, following the “Earth Day reflections about water” blog.

Water, Water Everywhere, but…
Eight of us are scattered in the creek or on the bank. We’re moving stones and clumps of sod or pushing large sticks into the shallow water. Breeches in the small dam continue to pop up, but we’re slowing the flow. Our pre-teen mob of siblings and cousins can accomplish plenty if we call it play and not work. The younger ones aren’t much help, but they’re into the buzz of it all. They see the water rise, hear us brag about making a swimming hole, and maybe believe us when we talk of constructing a dam like the beavers did a mile or so downstream in the woods.

For a while we ignore the blowflies, and we’re too wet to feel the sun searing into our shoulders. A couple of us dog paddle and scrape our knees in the dam’s backwater. Terry, the oldest of the cousins, names it the Grand Coutie Dam.
About the time a bigger rip in the dam opens up, the youngest cousin gets tangled in nettles, and a few of us start a mud fight. Eventually a cloudbank casts a long shadow, and the light breeze shifts to the northwest. We dog paddlers shiver a bit and pull on our t-shirts.
“Hey, Mom’s baking chocolate chip cookies this afternoon,” my brother says. On the walk home we avoid the Canadian thistles by following the cattle path in the pasture. The younger ones lag behind, but we turn often enough to make sure they’re coming. Mom makes us step out of our wet Keds, but she knows the kitchen will soon be marked with mud, cockleburs, and loud boasts about conquering the creek. By the time we’re halfway through our cookies and milk, clear flowing water has opened several large holes in Grand Coutie. By tomorrow, the bend in the creek will look about the way it did earlier this morning when the sun rose over the farm.
Some of us were lucky enough to grow up not worrying about fresh drinking water. My family members thought the bored well on our central Iowa farm in the 1960s made the best coffee and tea in the pre-Starbuck’s era. The creeks that flowed through our pastures were not just pastoral backdrops for the grazing cattle; they were playgrounds where youngsters went swimming, fishing, and ice skating. If agricultural run-off or poorly engineered feedlots pumped toxins into the streams, it didn’t register with us. We may have noticed if cattle crossed the creek just above where we were wading for minnows, but the poison ivy on the bank and bumble bees in the clover concerned us more.
Now we realize that the little capillary streams on our farm are part of the arteries that form the lifeblood of our state. Water that flows under the bridge on our lane eventually joins the Mississippi River and flows on to the Gulf of Mexico. We’re all part of the world’s circulatory system.
In the classic science fiction novel Dune, water is so scarce that the inhabitants of the planet Arrakis have adopted techniques to save every possible drop. They recycle bodily fluids, and shedding a tear for someone is considered an ultimate gift. On today’s Earth, some are shedding a tear for the condition of water sources in many parts of the world.  Access to clean water is not only a topic for symposiums and research papers, it is a matter of life and death for those in critically affected areas.
Many organizations are working to make clean water available to all. It would be great if youngsters around the world could wade into rural streams on hot summer days to build sod dams and race homemade stick boats. First, we need to get them a safe glass of water.  by dan gogerty (photo acquired from Shutterstock)
Links:  ** CAST publication: Water and Land Issues Associated with Animal Agriculture: A U.S. Perspective  ** CAST publication: Assessing the Health of Streams in Agricultural Landscapes: The Impacts of Land Management Change on Water Quality  ** Water for Life Program from the United Nations  ** Guinea Worm EradicationProgram–for water safety–includes work from the Carter Foundation, Gates Foundation, and others. 

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