What do alligators, beavers, and bison all have in common? All three are water conservationists.
Let us start with the beaver, since their role is obvious. Build dams upstream and prevent floods downstream. This worked well until it became the style in Europe to strut around in a beaver hat. Now we pay millions of $$$ for huge levees and dams.
I'm sure you have heard the expression "up to our sssss in alligators, and all we wanted to do was drain the swamp." It is the alligator's job to see that the swamp does not drain.
The powerful tail of this guardian is used to pack the mud in an alligator hole to preserve water and the next life cycle waiting to hatch. Drought-proofing.
The bison are the alligators of the prairie, though it is less obvious: plants that need more water grow around the prairie ponds. The bison are attracted both to the water and the succulent grasses, trim the lawn so that less water escapes to the sun, and do a little mudpacking of their own.
So let's put on our beaver hats, our alligator shoes, and go buffalo sniping.
It is always a first thought to destroy that which we do not understand, or that which is just inconvenient.
The buffalo were slaughtered as a form of genocide of the aboriginals, and to feed the armies and railroad work crews.
Though the eating of primates has alway been taboo, that is being ignored and the new motto is "eat more ape." A strange offshoot of this is that education is decreasing and crime is increasing. Perhaps this puts new meaning on "monkey see, monkey do." With apologies to the monkeys.
The connections of the Great Engineer are clockwork, and we are doing an admirable job of jamming the gears. No wonder so many people do not know what time it is. It's up.
All we have to do is build shelter for the cattle, pump water, haul feed to them, and watch the manure pile up.
This is so efficient that it only requires 20 calories of input from the "rancher" to produce one calorie of food.
Range cattle produce 2 calories of food for every calorie of the "producers" input. Too late - we've already destroyed the range "where the deer and the antelope play." I have never seen an antelope playing in Kansas, guess we need a new song.
Bison on the other hand, gain faster on range than cattle, and have a higher protein content. We don't care!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch.
It was discovered that grains will grow well in an area where it can be depended on not to rain at the "wrong" time - for example when the soil has been freshly plowed.
Sooo, Western Kansas with an average of 10 inches per year started looking good.
(I must digress. When farmers first came to Western Kansas in the 1870's, that region was experiencing an unusual amount of rainfall in that decade.)
When rainfall returned to the norm, canals were built to irrigate from the Arkansas River - but it wasn't enough. Remember the Dust Bowl of the 30's? There have been dusters in every decade - some of them larger - in that region.
"Fortunately" water was discovered not too far below the surface and the destruction of the Ogallala Aquifer was implemented.
This gravel bed repository of pure, sweet water at one time covered an underground area beneath 13 states. This has dwindled to five states in the last 20 years.
Here's how it happened:
At the end of WWII, the U.S. had a plan to feed the world (noble enough) and the Midwest became "The Bread Basket of the World." Wheat production was stepped up and Western Kansans became heroes.
By now the Ogallala was being pumped faster that it would replenish. (These are approximate numbers: It takes 15 inches of rain to store 1/16th of an inch of water in the Ogallala, and this seemingly endless supply was being used at the rate of 2 - 3 feet a year.) With only 10 inches of annual rain to recharge it.
Once again, man prevailed with the invention of the centrifugal pump and the tentacles of modern farming reached deeper into the water that had been waiting for millions of years.
Nothing is foolproof if fools try hard enough. "Don't save it, build a bigger pump."
And so they did.
Wheat became plentiful and feedlots were built to use this grain in a more "profitable" manner.
The Dodge City/Garden City area in Western Kansas and on east to Wichita now supplies 40% of America's table beef. The feedlots and slaughter houses in the Dodge/Garden area employ 5,000 imported workers, Asian and Mexicans, because the local folks don't like to work in 40 degree rooms with very sharp knives.
This influx of people put a great strain on the area: schools, roads, sewage, etc. So the people who live there had to float a few bonds. These won't float much longer - and when the workers leave the tax base will be severely cut.
At my last count there were 30 nations (with about 100 on the verge) around the world who are at war over water. So are Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado - all "share" the Arkansas River.
Here is the blow-by-blow.
The Arkansas is the river that runs through the Royal Gorge and has its origin from the snow packs of the Rocky Mountains. Some of this runoff seeps into the Ogallala, which is also under Colorado, and which also makes it reasonable to assume that Colorado has a good thing.
Though the Frying Pan project - a big reservoir - was to greatly increase the stored water from the Arkansas River in Colorado, strangely, the water allotment to Mexico was doubled. (They have their problems, too. So much underground water has been pumped that Mexico City has sunk 30 feet.)
The Arkansas River from the Colorado border to almost Wichita (about 200 miles) disappeared.
This had to be Colorado's fault, so a lawsuit was started. It took eleven years and eleven million dollars, but Kansas won the suit.
1700 water wells in Colorado were forced to stop pumping. And Colorado can use the snow to ski on, but when it melts it is not theirs anymore.
Downstream a different battle was being waged: Too much water.
Though the Arkansas was dry in Western Kansas, it was a monster farther east. Wichita sprawls across both banks and the runoff requires a large diversion ditch which goes into the river and adds to a flood to Arkansas City, which is about 60 miles downstream.
This community sits at the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers. Double trouble. The Native American Indians in that area at that time had told the settlers that a tornado will not touch down where two rivers meet.
There's a last laugh there.
Oil was discovered in this area in 1917 and the refinery was built on the flood plains right where the Walnut and the Arkansas collide. A levee - spell that funnel - was built to protect (presumably) the town, and in 1920 Arkansas City had its first flood fatality. Coincidence, I'm sure.
The solution: throw more money at the river.
And so they did, and so they do. A request for $35 million dollars was made to the Federal Government for a bigger levee, and the lawsuit for upstream water from Colorado is ongoing at the same time.
Pretty smart, huh!
We ain't half done.
The folks upstream on the Walnut are having their problems too, which they partially solved with a reservoir above El Dorado, Kansas.
Oklahoma by this time has contructed an inland sea port at Tulsa, the Catoosa, from which goods are transported by barge at one-third of the cost of trucking and one-half of the cost of rail. This is fed and regulated by the rivers in Eastern Kansas, such as the Neosho, and by the Arkansas which takes a straight shot south into Oklahoma.
Since Kansas has by this time spent its money to get Colorado's water and has placed a convenient funnel into Oklahoma, all that is needed is a reservoir to catch this bounty.
The Kaw was built (which necessitated the moving of Kaw City) just across the state line from Arkansas City. (I talked to a woman in Ponca City, OK, who told me that in the summer the state pays her to pump from her wells into the Kaw Reservoir.)
Picture this: A downstream reservoir (Kaw) to hold water for Oklahoma's port, and an upstream reservoir (El Dorado) with it's own agenda. With the right timing El Dorado could dump a wave while Oklahoma is holding. Guess who is stuck in the middle?
Remember the Ogallala? It comes back into the story here. While Oklahoma is using the surface water that Kansas fights, it is also using the ground water that Kansas demanded.
Oklahoma pumps from the Ogallala and uses the water for what is called "second recovery" from its oil wells. This water becomes contaminated and is pumped deep underground as waste.
I'll bet there is laughter in beaver heaven.
It takes 200 gallons of water to produce a one pound loaf of bread. The water rate in my county is $4.45 per 1000 gallons, or about 90 cents per 200 gallons. If bread was a dollar, that would leave a dime for the baker, drivers, clerks, etc. to split, and of course there would be no tip for the carryout person.
Don't worry, the folks that juggle all of this have it covered.
Ninety-eight and and one-half percent of the welfare dollar goes to "corporate" welfare. MacDonalds gets a share of this. One and one-half percent of the welfare dollar goes to hungry people, but why should they gripe? Hamburgers are only a buck.
Why won't the Arkansas City newspaper print my letters?