Listen to the 6 o'clock news and you will hear Tulsa all over its self working on ways to enhance their asset, the Arkansas River into the growth plans for their city with the "river runs through it campaign" as the new place to "gather."
The creek running through Commerce and Miami has been an asset, enough so one of the richest men in Oklahoma built his home on its banks with the money he made in mining. For the last 36 years legacy mining waters
I went to the Back to School event sponsored by the Ottawa County School-based social workers and gave out information on the yard clean up still being conducted for lead contaminated yards and the art and science contest LEAD Agency is having. Tami Lowery came by with her boys and stopped to say she had just returned from a trip to the northwest to a city with a clear water river running through it, you could see the bottom! It inspired her to help find ways to make the creek running through Miami better. "My mother used to swim in it!" She should still be able to. That is one of the reasons the theme for the 17th National Environmental Tar Creek Conference is Swimmable, Fishable, Drinkable Water. It is simple, that is what we want.
On a toxic tour with Miami's City Manager, a Councilman and a City employee we stood on Douthitt bridge first looking north at what appeared to be a clean Tar Creek then saw to the right Lytle Creek and a discharge of orange water that Ryan Lowell once said looked like an eternal flow of evil. We walked the few feet across to the south side of the bridge and looked down at Tar Creek which had mixed under the bridge with orange water, staining not only the water, but also the banks and the plants during high water. And we saw fish! They looked to be six inches long all bunched together, less than a dozen, all swimming in place facing north. I have seen it before. They had been in the clear water Tar Creek, still not CLEAN, but clear only twenty feet in front of them, had flowed down stream under the bridge, only to find the water changed. The little fish wait there in that position until they wear out treading water, unable to return to clear. I looked back before we left that day, and sure enough, they were gone, washed on downstream to the Neosho, on to Grand Lake. On previous trips to this spot, I have had children who couldn't stand it and would go down and rescue little fish to take to clean waters where they lived. But that was before the barbed wire fencing went up for cattle.
Our next stop was just down the road to see where the cattleman lived. He wasn't home but the hole his pickup truck had fallen in was, marked only with three tires and what looked like a towel.
That was fitting, I would throw in the towel too if my pickup truck had fallen into a cave-in just feet from my front door. I would throw in the towel and not look back to see where it landed as I rushed out of that place on my way to solid ground. The hole was marked with tires. A day later I went back to visit Bill Rush, the cattleman who has been an inspiration. When he bought the acreage across from what was the town of Douthitt it had looked like a moonscape. He worked with EPA and had the land cleared of mine waste so he could graze cattle. With all the improvements it was the "after" we would all want to see in this superfund site. He had sold the land to be near a new grandbaby before he looked out one night and saw his truck in that sinkhole. A stark reminder of why that buyout was necessary to protect people living in the heart of the superfund site from subsidence, or cave-ins.
I have called our creek Tire Creek since people are always tossing tires into it. Now with three sitting around that new sink hole, it reminded me of the 100,000 tires that were once approved to be put into the sink holes in Commerce and also of the thousands of tires I had seen in sink holes all over the superfund site. It might be time to consider a name change, perhaps it could be called the Tire Creek Superfund site and add the BF Goodrich Tire Factory too. We certainly have issues there!
This week Durango, Colorado had a one million gallon plume of orange water from a silver mine up river estimated to flow through town for three days. Our Tar Creek has been running orange for over 13,000 days, with 13 tons of heavy metals in its water every one of those days. As Ben Temple's slogan card said twenty years ago, "a creek is a terrible thing to waste." The asset our creek could have been has been lost all these years. There is a plan to make this different, come learn about the plan and learn the part you play at the Tar Creek Conference September 29-30.