Monday, March 25, 2024

A Rant or Hope?


Great Blue Herons - Waterman Rookery - 2023

This might be a wordy post...the image is from last year, yet this morning we have 2 Great Blue Herons on the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron Rookery across the valley this morning.

I'm hopeful, but a backstory follows.

Last year the rookery failed...for the first time since it was colonized back in the 80's and 90's. It failed last year largely (my speculation) because of the drought we've fought since 2020. Their local fishery/food source failed...the Waterman quit flowing in the late summer of 2022. With remaining small stagnant pools freezing to the bottom during the 2022-23 winter, there was a system fish die-off. Although the Waterman began a small flow in 2023, it once again stopped flowing shortly before Labor Day in 2023. Then in October we received an amazing 6.5" 2 day rainfall and the Waterman once again began to flow. The fishery had some months to experience resurgence but just how long will a self sustaining condition actually take?

The rookery "tried" last June it was abandoned...when around 30 pairs of birds give up - something is wrong. That can't be argued.

Water is much too taken for granted in Iowa. A fairly significant stream stops flowing two years in a row, yet no one seems to notice? Well maybe nitpickers like myself...

In December of 2022 the Des Moines Register ran an article on the Ocheyedan River...a 2 mile stretch of the river ran dry for the first time in recorded history. This event was apparently man made and technically illegal. But who noticed? Apparently someone needs to notice for any story to surface. Thankfully someone did notice and it was reported. But has the situation changed? Maybe, or its going to be glossed over and forgotten because yesterday it started raining - Finally.

"IF" things return to a "historic norm", maybe we won't see degenerative siphoning of our stream's water tables. But our resources are not finite...hear how much the proposed Carbon Pipelines will require to take from our water tables and aquifers? It is staggering!

The Waterman never had the type of struggle it now has with water usage from it's existing water table. When the upstream Ethanol plant was built back around 16-17 years ago, not a noticeable "visible" change in the creek was apparent. But the Geological Survey no longer measured stream flow of the Waterman, so who would notice?

Once the drought began in 2020 here, things started slowly 2022 it was obvious the Waterman system was in trouble. When a stream - for the first time in memory - quits's mouth at the Little Sioux completely bone dry; there is a problem.

Could a new drain on a water resource, like the Valero plant in Hartley exacerbate the issue? The Valero web site states it produces 140 million gallon of ethanol per year, and it takes 3 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol. 420 million gallons of water per year from the water table along Waterman Creek. How much of an impact on a drought stricken stream and it's ecosystem would taking away 450 million gallons a year make??? I'm not a hydrologist nor a scientist but when a stream goes dry like this, all stresses have to have a cumulative causal affect.

While the Ocheyedan River drying up in that localized section of it's stream was attributed to the siphoning off "for sale" to another state, it may not have been noticed had the drought not have happened.

But the drought did happen and while we are "Maybe" climbing out of that drought - that doesn't mean we can just go back to business as usual and not protect our natural water resources. It has proven to us to not be finite!

So much of our natural heritage is hidden from view...what is in that stream? We see water and assume all is well with the world. But we are being assaulted by nitrogen and herbicide runoff, the loss of invertebrates and viable fisheries, as well as amphibians and turtles - so its very likely "all isn't as it seems".

Case-in-point - the 50 mile fish kill in the East Nishnabotna River south of Red Oak just last week, due to a huge fertilizer spill, apparently an untended valve just gave it all to the river......all man made destruction. 

Everything in nature is many times has that got to be said? Are we all so far removed from the natural world now that we don't give it a passing thought any more???

If there are no longer invertebrates, micro-organisms, fish, amphibians, OR WATER in the streams - then we lose everything else above ground and the Waterman Rookery is now serving it's own sad purpose as being the proverbial "Canary in the Mine".

Two Great Blue Herons showed up this morning...they were sitting together on one of the few abandoned nests from last year.

I have hope. Is there still time for them? It all starts somewhere. There has to be some skin in the game or we are all going to lose something, piece by piece...

(Great Blue Heron and Nest photograph - ©Bruce A. Morrison)


Tuesday, January 9, 2024

A Most Uncommon Year it Was...


Winter Blue Jay - photograph ©Bruce A. Morrison 

A New Year has been with us for a bit over a week and I'm still pondering what just happened...for one, last year was over before it began...for another thing, it was good and not so good at the same time.  Confusing huh.

We had entered our 4th straight year of drought here; the spring and summer weren't what we needed to change that, but still there was some moisture at opportune helped the garden, and helped the farmers "just" enough to quell our tendency to dwell on our circumstances.

The Herons returned to the rookery here, the neighbor's fields were prepared and planted, and the pastures started greening up - things seemed "normal".  How we've grown to expect things to move along as we are so accustomed!  

Then drought repeated...the Herons abandoned their rookery for the first time since the nesting colony was established well over 20 years ago. (The Waterman dried for the first time in memory in 2022, and went into winter with a vulnerable fishery pooled up in small isolated pools - which froze to the bottom in the 22-23 winter temps.)  The Waterman quit flowing once again this past summer after Labor Day.

The small birds of the yard and pasture were still a joy; we had Bluebirds nesting again for the first time since the drought began in 2021.  However it was the first year we've witnessed Tree Swallows failing to nest here.  We arrived here over 20 years ago and became accustomed to 20-30 Barn Swallows patrolling the acreage; this year we had 6 pairs, down from 7-8 last year.

Some notable plants in our pasture, having gone dormant 3-4 years past, still did not reappear.  However our gravel esker hillside still offered up amazing color, albeit shorter stature and blooming time.

"Another" year saw historical warm global temperatures.

The world once again roiled in turmoil. 

As summer progressed, our family suffered joy and great loss. 

As fall came into it's time, we saw warmer temps and an unusual gift of 6.5" of rain in 2 was appreciated and celebrated by everyone here!  It got the Waterman flowing once more, however small the flow may be - its a good thing.

Then the warmest November and December I've ever remembered myself.  The ground stayed receptive (unfrozen) and we got an inch and a half of rain here on Christmas Eve day and Christmas day!

We did manage a south pasture burn in November; I had been picking seed all fall and had finally decided to broadcast it over the top of the south pasture on the 23rd of December.  Hopefully this planting will see fruition!

And now we start this second week of the New Year with a return to what we are always accustomed to here - frigid temperatures and snow.  Lets keep that sowed seed covered!

Yes it was an uncommon year - at least for us.  We are thankful for the Blessings from it, and pray for all those around us who have loved and lost, toiled, reaped and harvested.  May this New Year be kind to you and may you be kind to others.  We are all of one family and this world is our only home.