Every summer morning by 6:30 a man greets the day, much as Cherokees have since time began, by going to water. His water is Tar Creek. He has created a paradise on his property, mowing and trimming around the trees he and his wife have planted from his back door, all the way to the creek. On the bank he has secured a log with... log-chains so it won't wash away when the gully washers come, as they do. He finds time to sit on that log and reflect on his youth when this spot was his fishing hole, and sometimes swimming hole.
"Sitting on a log" in Cherokee sounds like George Washington. Tsail, a Cherokee man who rebelled against removal to Indian Territory hid with his family in the hills in the old lands. When the negotiator found him and told him if he and his male relatives would give themselves up, other holdouts would be allowed to stay in the homelands. He asked that his name not be remembered, but that moment should be when "sitting on the log" changed lives and saved Cherokee heritage. You might never have heard of Tsail, but if you have Cherokee relatives, you may like me have George Washington grandfathers, great grandfathers and uncles.
This Tar Creek neighbor was the one who noticed the fish that morning. He was shocked, all those little fish were dead along the banks, floating in black water. Just days earlier he and his wife had noticed the fish eggs along the vegetation growing in the water.
J-M Farms will restore the creek to how it was before the discharge was discovered. I wonder what that means. Will they be scrubbing those black rocks? Will they manicure those water plants and remove what discolored them? Will they be repopulating the creek with thousands of little fish?
I like fish and was amazed to see so many mostly 2 inch, some smaller, a few 4 and 5 inches long lying along their piece of paradise, but also at every access point downstream. Some were draped over small rocks, as if taking a nap. Some were in bunches along the bank with raccoon footprints in the mud indicating easy picking for our fish loving mammals. One fisherman told me he had been catching the little guys for bait for his limb lines.
Another resident had told me just a couple of weeks ago about the kids of summer taking their fishing poles to Tar Creek just 1/2 mile from the log secured in paradise.
Like I said earlier, all the agencies that care about water quality and the environment came to investigate this fish-kill. They walked the water back to the source when another agency was called in to find the cause. The responsibility for enforcement changed from water protectors to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. They ought to care about good water, too, but more often they are the farmer's best friend, making sure the farmer gets treated with respect and sometimes with more respect than the land or the water that is needed to make land productive.
J-M Farms took responsibility for the discharge explaining in their press release that a broken coupling allowed a collection water transfer pipe to leak into a tributary. I found the tributary and days after the fish kill there was still black water flowing down it to Tar Creek.
I have asked DEQ to find the water samples they took and analyze for health hazards because it is summer and kids are going to the creek with fishing poles and swimming suits. There was silence on the phone when I said that. No one believed anyone was using the creek. But thanks to our eyes on the prize citizens, we know that had been happening.
EPA has spent some big money getting ready to fix Tar Creek, they have been working up to it for over thirty years. The University of Oklahoma's Commerce passive water treatment systems have reduced some metals in the creek already. EPA's plan started at the headwaters of Tar Creek in Kansas and has now crossed into Oklahoma. They are working their way, clearing and removing chat from the creek and along the banks so NONE can enter it again, they are on the way with LOTS to do on the Oklahoma side in the four miles before the major mine water discharges enter on Road 40. The mine water will have to be addressed. The plan is to cleanup all the way to the train trestle at TWIN BRIDGES to improve our Grand Lake.
All that to say, J-M Farms needs to fix their issues, because we have a restoration project that has been in the making for almost the entire lifespan of Superfund and we want it completed, Tar Creek restored and usable. A lot of money will be spent to make this happen, the people deserve to use the creek that runs past park, college campus and neighborhoods. And those little fishes need a place to thrive and that black water needs not be part of the story.
Grateful for the man on the log
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim