A number of years after I began working in Miami, a substantial flood occurred. With flooding imminent the culture in the community changed almost immediately. The scramble to move household appliances and furniture meant trucks of all sizes were loaded and moved through town, driving through water on some roads to get to the Miami Civic Center to store their possessions in rows in the gymnasium the city allowed for safe storage.
Years later during the 2007 flood, people found storage on front porches, in garages and barns throughout the community, so loaded trucks were going every direction. After the flood I worked with Grand Lake Mental Health walking neighborhoods to visit people who had sustained significant damage to their homes to see if they were aware of services available for them and offer a shoulder or an ear if needed. House after house, stuff piled in the front yards, ruined by water and what was in it. People stood on their properties and sometimes in the shell of it exhausted with the effort and the realization of loss.
As the water was coming up this time, I went to the neighborhood across from NEO where the Rotary Centennial Park is and reflected on homes gone and with them the ordeal of loss no longer felt by their inhabitants. None of those residents will be suffering this time.
Code enforcement standards were followed after that flood on what constituted damage and what indicated the property was condemned changed Miami very quickly. Housing stock decreased dramatically and almost 500 families were in immediate need of temporary housing. Charles George Court, Neosho River homes, Tar Creek homes. Homes were demolished proving you can't always go back home, but those now on drier ground don't have to be "haunted by water" as Norman Maclean once said in A River Runs Through It and other Stories.
Might we all be haunted by water if we think about what is IN the water around us? Everything that has been applied to the fields upstream, the very land itself has runoff into this water. Waste water plants get a reprieve when there are rain events like we have experienced and wastewater not processed can be discharged.
Rachel Carson spoke out about water and how it is not possible to add pesticides to water anywhere without threatening the purity of water everywhere. It is well known that a single drop of oil can contaminate one million drops of water. She understood there was a universal seaward movement of water. And a whole lot of it came down and is flowing past us, accumulating in Grand Lake before it spills past on toward the ocean.
Farmers apply chemical fertilizers and manure to their fields to grow crops, but the earth can hold only so much before it releases it into the water, usually during rains. Manure is rich with phosphorous and nitrogen, pollutants that algae greedily feed upon. With all the runoff Grand Lake may suffer with these abundant rains we may experience another algae bloom that will suck oxygen from the water, creating an environment in which fish can’t breathe — and zones where everything dies.
Of course the other "stuff" in these waters are the metals from Tar Creek and the Neosho River as it bathes back into Miami. Mary Daugherty's mother told her you can put out a fire, but there is not a thing you can do about water.
We might not be able to stop the rain or change the lake level, no matter how many law suits, but we can resist using pesticides and herbicides. And Tar Creek can be fixed and that would help lower the metal exposure left behind after these rain events. Dr. Bob Nairn's passive water systems in Commerce are taking a load off of us every day and we need those to continue working for us. Getting Tar Creek fixed would be easier with more voices asking for it to be done, letters demanding it and more people speaking up at Town Halls requesting action on the cleanup.
People who live between a creek and a river...
“... water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”- Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim