As I was driving along Shoal Creek the other day, I thought about all the float trips we used to take when we were younger, and how lucky we are to live in an area where we seem to have an abundance of water. We have friends in other parts of the country where water is a scarce commodity, and that could happen to us as well if we don’t protect our natural resources. If you were to talk to city workers in our water plant, you might hear how the same water from Shoal Creek is used over and over again by the cities who live along its shores.

As I was driving along Shoal Creek the other day, I thought about all the float trips we used to take when we were younger, and how lucky we are to live in an area where we seem to have an abundance of water. We have friends in other parts of the country where water is a scarce commodity, and that could happen to us as well if we don’t protect our natural resources. If you were to talk to city workers in our water plant, you might hear how the same water from Shoal Creek is used over and over again by the cities who live along its shores.
Three years ago (May 2014) one of those cities had a severe problem with their water supply when Tyson Poultry discharged a Feed Supplement into Clear Creek, resulting in the deaths of 108,000 fish, and the disruption of the Monett wastewater treatment system. Thankfully, our federal Clean Water Act came to the rescue and Monett’s future water supply will be protected. Last year Tyson pled guilty to two criminal violations, agreed to pay a $2 million fine, serve two years of probation and pay $500,000 to maintain and restore waterways in the Monett area. “Tyson’s admitted criminal conduct caused significant environmental damage, including a large-scale fish kill,” said U.S. Attorney Tom Larson. (Missourinet.com).
Sediment is also a serious pollutant to our area streams and lakes. It can alter the flow of stream beds and disrupt the natural food chain by degrading the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live, causing declines in fish populations. [Beaver Watershed Alliance]
Not only do we want to protect the riparian zones along streams and rivers, we need to consider ditches along our roadways. Excessive mowing and the use of herbicides can lead to loss of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses, which are critical in slowing runoff after heavy rains and in filtering pollutants and sediment. Not only has the highway department saved manpower and money by reducing mowing, but it has had the side effect of improving the quality of our water supply. We can reduce the runoff to our streets by similar means on our own properties.
Watersheds cross state lines, so the Beaver Watershed Alliance’s concern about the increased turbidity in northwest Arkansas affects us too, as this water flows north into Missouri. “At a large scale, natural [vegetative] infrastructure is … our community’s natural life support system — an interconnected network of waterways, wetlands, woodlands, wildlife habitats, and other natural areas: greenways, parks and other conservation lands; working farms, ranches and forests; and wilderness and other open spaces that support native species, maintain natural ecological processes, sustain air and water resources and contribute to the health and quality of life for people.”
Last month’s heavy rains reminded me of the horrible floods Neosho endured last year. We suffered so much damage to homes and businesses, but we must not forget that flooding impacts watersheds in these other ways too. As stakeholders in our local watersheds we all should be alert to potential dangers to our clean water and do our part to to stem runoff and the pollutants which accompany it. Our tap water begins as rain, often many hundreds of miles from our home’s water source, and it is easy for pollutants from varied sources to cause problems. The more we can do to protect its quality, the healthier we all will be.  


Catherine Rhoades writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.