Vantage Point

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From Missouri Conservationist: Jul 2001

Joining the Flat Earth Society

After every heavy rain, I think about joining or starting a chapter of the Flat Earth Society. It's pretty obvious that's where our state is headed. The Bootheel is already flat by virtue of nature's historical work. That leveling took billions of years, but we're quicker now and have more construction equipment.

Evidence of our skills as a construction society are everywhere, but it's greatly magnified in our urban sprawl zones. Our favorite little streams, once alive with interesting minnows, are being squashed flat or paved. The bigger streams downhill from local construction sites now have silt bottoms, gutted edges and a lack of deep pools. Our local community lakes are more turbid and filled with marshy vegetation. They require casting a lot further to reach water with any depth. The fishing is now not as good in those lakes, except for carp fishing experts!

Once upon a time we could blame the tillers of the soil, farmers, for our earth flattening. Now their land stays perched where it belongs, thanks to ambitious soil retention provisions. Today, it's the urbanites that are driving us toward being a pancake replica.

Sediment loading from construction sites can reach an astonishing 1,100 tons per acre per year. This rapid rate is bad for aquatic organisms, smothering them and destroying their life cycle. It's bad for humans as it transports pollutants-chemicals, metals, herbicides, insecticides and nutrients-into our drinking water supplies. It's bad for global health when it creates huge algae blooms and dead sea areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

How can you protect your favorite water hole from the filling-in process? The best way is to raise the issue onto the public awareness screens. Tell folks we're currently losing a winnable battle. We need to insist that best management practices be put in place and enforced at all construction sites-new home, new subdivision or new shopping center.

Let them know it's not enough to erect a plastic sheet held up by a willow sticks at the lower end of a 20-acre construction site. Agencies or counties or cities with the authority to order effective siltation control measures need to do so and then enforce those requirements. Agencies with a big stake in the battle, including the Conservation Department, need to educate, cooperate with and assist those with authority to act. Individual contractors and companies need to use some common sense and realize we all live on this planet together.

There has even been discussion of developing an "erosion summit," where all the players involved would meet and seek effective solutions to this growing problem. This would include construction folks and local, state and federal agencies. Perhaps the sediment problem should be the next area of concentrated effort for our 1,500-plus stream teams. Keeping litter out of streams isn't nearly as important as preventing the demise of streams from siltation.

The alternative is to join the Flat Earth Society and, in a few more generations, walk over a flat Missouri looking for the edge of the world. We might even take pictures of our hills covered with soil to show future generations how it used to be. The choice is ours. Unfortunately, the flatlanders are now winning, and we're in the 5th inning or so of the ball game with no Mark McGuires on our bench to lead a late-inning, home-team rally.

Jerry M. Conley, Director

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer