EDITORIAL: Thinking like an Ozark spring

Apr. 19—An editorial that appeared in a Missouri newspaper in 1926 recently crossed our path.

It noted that with the building of roads, tourists were sure to flood into the Ozarks, and pleaded for help with a community cleanup day.

"If someone near town has an old well or ravine they wish filled up, we feel sure a plan could be worked out."

A century later, we're no wiser.

Last month, some Southwest Missouri residents and company officials testified in Jefferson City on the need to make sure they can continue to spread a mystery sludge made from food-processing waste and who knows what else across the Ozarks, under the fraud that this is nothing but fertilizer.

The Ozarks has been on the downstream end of this kind of thinking for too long to take it at face value when the legislative-regulatory-corporate-ag complex tells us this will be fine.

It's astounding to us that at the same time we're talking about allowing this pollution to continue, although perhaps better regulated, we still don't have our heads around how Roaring River spring works. We still don't know how big the recharge basin is, how it interconnects underground with other springs, or even where the bottom is. Then again, ignorance allows us to charge full speed ahead with indifference.

Tom Aley, one of the country's foremost hydrologists and an expert on karst systems, including the Ozarks, has helped us understand that the Ozarks is a three-dimensional world, and protecting the two dimensions of water on the surface is inadequate; the challenge is that third dimension and understanding that what we put on the ground in one place will resurface even dozens of miles away, crossing underground sometimes even into a different watershed.

Aley years ago demonstrated that a dump near Dora in Ozark County was actually a natural sinkhole. It had been used as a trash site for many years, and one of the things he found within it was sludge that had been pumped out of septic systems. Everything that had been tossed into it traveled via this three-dimensional country to a popular spring a few miles away used for recreation.

Tracer dyes he poured into a city manhole in Eureka Springs, Arkansas — a city with 60-plus springs — came out at Sweet Spring, where residents still went to fill water jugs with what they thought was pure Ozark spring water.

Tracer dyes others put into toilet holding tanks in one Ozark community showed up miles away in Boze Mill Spring on the Eleven Point.

There's a spring in the Ozarks that is part of a losing stream that makes its way underground to three separate river systems. A single misstep then at this spot can poison three spectacular Ozark rivers.

Conservationist (and Ozark lover) Aldo Leopold famously encouraged his generation to "think like a mountain," in his "Sand County Almanac."

In the Ozarks, we'd do well to think like an Ozark spring.