Tahlequah Daily Press

January 15, 2014

Off to a rocky start

Spring Creek Coalition welcomes retired geosciences professor to annual meeting

Special Writer

PEGGS — The watchdogs of a community work diligently behind the scene to protect the environment, especially when a habitat is endangered.

For residents of Spring Creek, preservation efforts started two decades ago.

Last weekend, the Spring Creek Coalition hosted its annual meeting at the Peggs Community Center with a silent auction, rock and fossil display and presentation by retired University of Arkansas professor Dr. Van Brahana. A slide presentation, followed by a discussion of the rocks and fossils on display, was provided by Brahana.

The occurrence of springs, water cycles, geology, fossils, conservation and “karst” – sink holes – were among the topics he covered.

“My interest began in fourth grade, and the two main things I know, I learned then,” he said. “Water flows from high to low energy, it flows downhill and flow follows the path of least resistance. Those are rules of physics.”

Groundwater infiltration base flow moves slowly and keeps water in the creek most of the time, he said. Water soaks into the ground, then surges from groundwater to ground surface.

“The atmosphere at the surface continually recycles the same water we’ve had for hundreds of millions of years,” Brahana said.

As water soaks into the earth, it moves about underground seeping and flowing through tables or layers of rock, and depending on porosity of the rock, may stay in or wear away holes. This underground movement of water fascinates geologists and other earth scientists, who sometimes use a non-toxic color at one location to trace flow to determine where it comes out of the ground.

“Underground flow is not easy to predict,” he said.

The layers of churt rock and other types of rock form mazes that lead to many outlets, caves and springs.

The Ozarks are loaded with beautiful caves. Fossils can usually be identified by the layer of earth they’re found in or from, said Brahana.

“Most of the rocks found in Spring Creek are from the Mississippian period, a range of 289 to 340 million years ago,” he said. “An ocean covered this land at that time. That’s why we find marine fossils.”

Rocks can be natural works of art, he said, formed by water flow, oxidation reduction and many natural effects of time.

“We have to determine where the water comes from and how to protect it,” he said. “We need to avoid doing things that contaminate a water supply; but don’t yell at neighbors. Farmers are trying to earn a living, too.”

Delicate balance between business and nature

Brahana used a new hog farm upstream from the Buffalo River in Arkansas as an example.

The landowners have a right to their business, but those interested in preserving the pristine waters of the river also have a voice. The waste is stored in a reservoir lined with clay, and later sprayed on fields. It contains heavy metals and other potentially toxic agents, which make their way into local watersheds that affect aquatic ecosystems and drinking water.

“Salamanders, cave fish and other amphibians are good indications of healthy ecosystems,” he said.

With high animal density, there is lots of litter, but how much is too much?

“It happens everywhere; it’s everyone’s problem,” he said. “It’s important that we all share our knowledge and that we respectfully communicate as shareholders.”

But decisions are commonly based on politics, money and fear, he said.

“We need facts and to look at the long-range picture,” said Brahana. “You live downstream from somebody else.”

Local residents know digging will almost always be impeded by rocks in Cherokee County.

“I hit rock every time I dig. I’m going to put in an above-ground garden, but I need to dig a water well to water with so I was hoping someone here could tell me how deep to dig,” said Dennis Parrott.

Attendees were asked to bring rocks to share. Parrott had the largest rock on display, and it was hollow like a canteen. It was found many years ago around Durant by his grandfather, who worked for the railroad.

“I love to pick up rocks that are interesting,” Said Parrott. “We use this one my grandfather found for a doorstop. I brought it to find out if it was manmade or formed naturally.”

Host and Coalition President Beth Rooney introduced three board member hopefuls. Elections were held, adding George Kamp, Emily Hyde and Tom Alexander to the mix.

Coalition members come from diverse backgrounds. Kamp is a Lucky Springs area landowner, birder and fly fisherman, as well as a retired physician. Hyde is a senior at Holland Hall and plans to major in water resources at Oklahoma State University in the fall. She’s involved in a water quality independent study of Spring Creek at her school. Alexander is president of Alexander Consulting, and holds a doctoral degree in hydrology. He worked on the source of Peggs Water Co. and its impact on Spring Creek water flow.

“To me, it’s all about education,” said Alexander. “The more you bring people together the better you understand the different ideas from their perspectives. We need to be more respectful of each other and our different opinions and work together to derive reasonable, logical and viable solutions.”

Along with preservation, Alexander is part of the coalition for prevention.

“I want to make sure what’s happening in other watersheds doesn’t happen here. With more Confined Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFO) industry coming here, we need to learn from other areas how to anticipate what can happen and learn what we can do,” he said.