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"We look beyond the river banks and see the future and how the Illinois River will support our lives into the next centuries."

-- Illinois River Watershed Partnership

A river runs through Northwest Arkansas. Before "Illinois" was a state name, it was a word French explorers and missionaries had tongue-twisted into what they thought some Native American tribes called themselves. Our Illinois River, however, originates near Hogeye, just south of Fayetteville, travels north into Benton County and then turns west and south in Oklahoma. Dammed in 1952 to create Lake Tenkiller near Tahlequah, its waters finally meet up with the Arkansas River and onward they flow together to the mighty Mississippi and the sea.

Rivers do not form without having surrounding watersheds, which are the drainage areas that take water downhill across land. Rivulets lead to streams then to larger creeks and on to rivers and oceans. We all live in some watershed wherever we may be, but the downhill slope for the Illinois River in particular extends from 14th Street in Bentonville on the north, down Arkansas 265 on the east, along North Street in Fayetteville on the south and out U.S. 412 westward toward Siloam Springs and into Oklahoma.

There is probably no better example for the idiom, "What goes around comes around," than water. Water is a mode of transportation for everything it comes in contact with so it is imperative we understand that whatever washes into a watershed winds up downstream or soaking into wetlands, which feed groundwater aquifers. Soil, chemicals, trash, sewage, fertilizer, gasoline, oil, animal poop, etc. all can travel in water, which we eventually drink or use to grow our food or to run our industries and businesses. So, if we dare wonder if the environment has anything to do with public or personal health issues, we need look no further than our roadside ditches or street curbs.

As with other groups of concerned individuals who deem protection of life's fundamental necessities crucial to health, to the economy and to a livable, diverse environment, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership was organized in 2005 around a mission. They work "to improve the integrity of the Illinois River through public education and community outreach, water quality monitoring, and the implementation of conservation and restoration practices throughout the watershed."

This partnership works with a small staff and volunteers in programs that encourage best management practices based on water quality conditions. Management strategies for forests, pastures and urban areas as well as maintenance of unpaved roads are often recommended. For example, stream bank restoration, wooded buffers, vegetative filter strips, fencing and stormwater control all aid in keeping water clean. Many techniques are outlined in their handbook about best practices, available on their website.

The partnership office is in their Watershed Sanctuary and Learning Center, a former church building in the center of Cave Springs. With a 6-acre lake, a spring emerging out of a cave, rare endangered plants and critters, trails and 24 acres of land and forests around the spring area, the center is a perfect nature classroom. More importantly, it is a place to fall in love with the outdoors. Field trips and summer camps (three sessions remaining -- http://www.irwp.org) as well as tree planting lessons and school science classes (2,728 students K-12 in 2017) all happen at this site. Another 1,000 students are expected to come this fall, but the nature area can be visited by anyone during its open hours.

The partnership's vision of a good future outcome is stated this way: "The Illinois River and its tributaries will be a fully functioning ecosystem where ecological protection, conservation, and economically productive uses support diverse aquatic and riparian communities, meet all state and federal water quality standards, promote economic sustainability, and provide recreational opportunities."

For this vision to become reality, we all need to invest in watershed land protection, which will increase recharge areas so water can filter into underground aquifers. We also have to come to terms with our use and abuse of water as well as the urbanization of the land. Urban planning areas were at 22 percent in this watershed in 2006, but will likely be over 58 percent in 2050 with a doubling in the population across the headwaters of this river. Without caring how land and water function together, we stand the chance of losing both.

" We look beyond the river banks and see the future and how the Illinois River will support our lives into the next centuries."

-- Illinois River Watershed Partnership

A river runs through Northwest Arkansas. Before "Illinois" was a state name, it was a word French explorers and missionaries had tongue-twisted into what they thought some Native American tribes called themselves. Our Illinois River, however, originates near Hogeye, just south of Fayetteville, travels north into Benton County and then turns west and south in Oklahoma. Dammed in 1952 to create Lake Tenkiller near Tahlequah, its waters finally meet up with the Arkansas River and onward they flow together to the mighty Mississippi and the sea.

Rivers do not form without having surrounding watersheds, which are the drainage areas that take water downhill across land. Rivulets lead to streams then to larger creeks and on to rivers and oceans. We all live in some watershed wherever we may be, but the downhill slope for the Illinois River in particular extends from 14th Street in Bentonville on the north, down Highway 265 on the east, along North Street in Fayetteville on the south and out Highway 412 westward toward Siloam Springs and into Oklahoma.

There is probably no better example for the idiom, "What goes around comes around," than water. Water is a mode of transportation for everything it comes in contact with so it is imperative we understand that whatever washes into a watershed winds up downstream or soaking into wetlands, which feed groundwater aquifers. Soil, chemicals, trash, sewage, fertilizer, gasoline, oil, animal poop, etc. all can travel in water, which we eventually drink or use to grow our food or to run our industries and businesses. So, if we dare wonder if the environment has anything to do with public or personal health issues, we need look no further than our roadside ditches or street curbs.

As with other groups of concerned individuals who deem protection of life's fundamental necessities crucial to health, to the economy and to a livable, diverse environment, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership was organized in 2005 around a mission. They work "to improve the integrity of the Illinois River through public education and community outreach, water quality monitoring, and the implementation of conservation and restoration practices throughout the watershed."

This partnership works with a small staff and volunteers in programs that encourage best management practices based on water quality conditions. Management strategies for forests, pastures and urban areas as well as maintenance of unpaved roads are often recommended. For example, stream bank restoration, wooded buffers, vegetative filter strips, fencing and stormwater control all aid in keeping water clean. Many techniques are outlined in their handbook about best practices, available on their website.

The partnership office is in their Watershed Sanctuary and Learning Center, a former church building in the center of Cave Springs. With a 6-acre lake, a spring emerging out of a cave, rare endangered plants and critters, trails and 24 acres of land and forests around the spring area, the center is a perfect nature classroom. More importantly, it is a place to fall in love with the outdoors. Field trips and summer camps (3 sessions remaining--- http://www.irwp.org) as well as tree planting lessons and school science classes (2,728 students K-12 in 2017) all happen at this site. Another 1,000 students are expected to come this fall, but the nature area can be visited by anyone during its open hours.

The partnership's vision of a good future outcome is stated this way: "The Illinois River and its tributaries will be a fully functioning ecosystem where ecological protection, conservation, and economically productive uses support diverse aquatic and riparian communities, meet all state and federal water quality standards, promote economic sustainability, and provide recreational opportunities."

For this vision to become reality, we all need to invest in watershed land protection, which will increase recharge areas so water can filter into underground aquifers. We also have to come to terms with our use and abuse of water as well as the urbanization of the land. Urban planning areas were at 22 percent in this watershed in 2006, but will likely be over 58 percent in 2050 with a doubling in the population across the headwaters of this river. Without caring how land and water function together, we stand the chance of losing both.

Commentary on 06/12/2018

Print Headline: A watershed moment

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