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)