Friday, March 11, 2016

Harbingers of spring

Last week, just before trout season opened on March 1, I set out for bottomland woodlands along the Niangua River to look for Harbinger of Spring, Salt and Pepper, one of the first spring wildflowers to bloom in the Ozarks. My radar was on the ground. Beep, Beep, Beep went the radar upon seeing vegetative stems of Erigenia bulbosa and finally, after about ten minutes, the radar went crazy with a whirr-whirr-whirr upon finding a flowering stem! Fires were going on all over the place with big plumes and diffuse smoke all around the river valley. But in the sycamore-dominated bottomlands, areas that don't see fire traditionally, the Harbingers of Spring were starting to pop up through the desiccated stalks of stinging nettle from last summer.

The day on the Niangua River was pleasant enough weather-wise, just ideal, actually, but seeing the degraded water quality certainly put a damper on the afternoon. In recent years, development in the watershed has taken off by leaps and bounds with new float outfitters, campgrounds, cabins, and other structures with poor wastewater treatment solutions. The catastrophic December flood event in the area has naturally resulted in high nutrient loading in the stream, all of those crummy, leaking septic tanks, the latrines, the flush toilets and cabins in the 50 year floodplain all dumping directly into the river. The cyanobacteria and other pollutants have caused a massive bloom of disgusting algae that is now coating every single rock and crevice in the upper Niangua River. Poor sculpin tried to navigate the rocks looking for interstitial spaces, which were nowhere to be had. The river is vile, and I'm beginning to wonder what the rest of our streams look like after that devastating event in December.

Will the warm weather and regular flow eventually flush out all of this disgusting algae or is this the present condition of the river for a long time? I shudder to think of what the Meramec River looks like this spring, what with entire homes and shelters floating downstream, cattle in the watershed like the Niangua, but even moreso. I saw Erigenia in bloom and a lot of fire in the uplands. Spring must be around the corner.

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