Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let the Thanksgiving Flow #CleanWater

Recently, I've been discovering more and more reasons to give thanks this month. I haven't gone looking for them, in fact, more often than not, I was probably doing just the opposite. It's been a pleasant series of surprises. (Maybe we'll get more on Tuesday?)

Do you know that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a Watershed Health Assessment Framework (WHAF) that "provides a comprehensive overview of the ecological health of Minnesota's watersheds." The acronym leaves something to be desired, but the information provides a substantive basis for considering whether new or restorative development can be expected to contribute to an improvement or degradation of a watershed. It also provides some wake-up calls.

ravines (and gullies) abound in the lower St. Croix watershed
ravines (and gullies) abound in the lower St. Croix watershed
Photo by J. Harrington

For example, we live at the western edge of the St. Croix River-Stillwater watershed, which has an average health score of 59 out of 100. I find that concerning and disappointing because the St. Croix is an officially designated "wild and scenic river." The Upper St. Croix rates only slightly higher, at 67. It looks as though the highest rating goes to Rapid River (84), which has almost no people in the watershed's 944 square miles. The health assessments, by themselves, change nothing except our awareness of what we're doing to the lands and waters on which we depend. That may, I hope, encourage us to become substantially better stewards of our resources. I can find no mention of or linkage to the watershed health assessments on the Governor's water action page. That seems like a valuable opportunity that's being missed. On the other hand, I spend a fair amount of time poking about the internet looking for information about Minnesota's environmental health and just discovered the watershed assessments this past week. A Water Ethic, like Rome, will not be built overnight.

brook flowing along the bottom of a ravine
brook flowing along the bottom of a ravine
Photo by J. Harrington

In more of a local "boots on the ground mode, Chisago County is engaged in stewardship that will help the St. Croix-Stillwater watershed become healthier. As reported on the St. Croix 360 web site, "Getting rid of a gully stops significant erosion into the St. Croix River." The County's Soil and Water Conservation district has bee tackling a number of similar projects that contribute to water quality degradation, and land use issues, along the St. Croix. The District has actually demonstrated that my cynicism has become excessive. I'm grateful for that and for the watershed restoration work they're doing. All of the preceding makes me hopeful that we will soon learn that we need to engage in restorative development every opportunity we get. The Words Before All Else tell us this about The Waters: "Water is life. We know its power in many forms-waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water."

I Wanted to Make Myself like the Ravine



I wanted to make myself like the ravine
so that all good things
would flow into me.

Because the ravine is lowly,
it receives an abundance.

This sounds wonderful
to everyone
who suffers from lacking,
but consider, too, that a ravine
keeps nothing out:

in flows a peach
with only one bite taken out of it,
but in flows, too,
the body of a stiff mouse
half cooked by the heat of the stove
it was toughening under.

I have an easygoing way about me.
I’ve been an inviting host —
meaning to, not meaning to.
Oops — he’s approaching with his tongue
already out
and moving.

Analyze the risks
of becoming a ravine.

Compare those with the risks
of becoming a well
with a well-bolted lid.

Which I’d prefer
depends largely on which kinds
of animals were inside me
when the lid went on
and how likely they’d be
to enjoy the water,
vs. drown, freeze, or starve.

The lesson: close yourself off
at exactly the right time.

On the day that you wake up
under some yellow curtains
with a smile on your face,

lock the door.
Live out your days
untroubled like that.


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