Saline Springs

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

cattails, clumps of cordgrass and weedy plants that tolerate salty soils and frequent flooding.

Algae live in some of the pools, too. These aren't your typical Missouri pond scum. They are oceanic algae, or at least have oceanic relatives.

Springs, both fresh and saline, are common in Missouri. Springs are evidence of water moving underground. As water percolates downward, it finds its way through geological layers. When it encounters a layer that is mostly impenetrable, it moves laterally. It can travel such a path for many miles before running onto the ground when that layer of geology surfaces.

With enough rainfall and considerable overburden of rock and soil, subterranean water can amass considerable pressure, forcing it to rise up, or "boil." The distance water travels before it surfaces and the time it spends moving underground greatly affect water quality.

While moving underground, water dissolves minerals, absorbs chemicals and carries gases. It may be clear and cold, but the pure water we associate with natural springs simply does not exist. All water carries a history of the geology it touches. Water traveling through beds of rock heavy with sulphur smells and tastes like sulphur. If the layers are heavily saline, the water becomes salty.

Saline springs occur in other parts of Missouri, too, including neighboring Howard, Randolph and Ralls counties, but they are most abundant in Saline County. In 1892, Paul Schweitzer reported on them extensively in, "The Mineral Waters of Missouri."

"Muriatic waters, or brines, contain common salt as their main constituent and are in their origin related in some way to the ocean," wrote Schweitzer. "This vast inland ocean, covering the interior of the North American continent for thousands of square miles, became encroached upon by the land forming to the east and west and north, with islands rising here and there out of its waters, until it was forced back to its present sites. During such uprisings of the land, many small portions of the sea were cut off permanently or for a time to leave their mineral contents behind as witnesses of their former existence. These minerals are reached today by the percolating waters and reappear once more in the form of springs or artesian wells, or when near enough to the surface, as licks or seeps, such as are represented abundantly in Missouri.

"This version of geologic history is both fact and fantasy, but it does well to establish that former oceans have

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