Tar Creek has been part of Nick Shepherd's life since before he could legally drive a car.
He competed in high school with his Tar Creek science fair projects. The first year, I was walking through the exhibits and saw his and heard him describe his work came back to me Wednesday morning. The same passion, excitement to share his findings had never left or diminished. That Nick was still there. He wowed us again.
LEAD Agency invited that Miami High School student to bring his science fair project to one of the National Tar Creek Conferences held at the Miami Civic Center and that is where he and Bob Nairn met for the first time. And it was Bob Nairn who introduced him as he prepared to defend his PhD dissertation, "Development of Ecological Engineering Solutions to Mine Water Biogeochemistry and Hydrology Challenges.”
After graduating MHS, Nick has continually attended the University of Oklahoma, working with Nairn on the Passive Water Treatment systems in Commerce, OK on the Mayer Ranch and the site across the road by Commerce High School. He again developed his own research projects which have all been to the benefit of Tar Creek.
His, yours, our Tar Creek. He was born to it and has spend his youth and now into adulthood looking at that orange water, capturing, filtering, analyzing it for toxic metals. He has devised fish catchment and identified species, counting before they reached the passive treatment systems and celebrating the numbers and species that could be found in the cleaner water. All that before they entered the still damaged water in Tar Creek.
So why wouldn't he want to begin looking at why the rest of Tar Creek couldn't be addressed? The answers are daunting and because of his work, EPA has a guideline with charts, numbers and colored boxes on mine maps showing exactly where the next phase of the EPA work must go. The gaping holes in the ground, mine shafts, collapsed features and the multitude of boreholes let RAINWATER enter the ground and recharge, refilling the Boone Aquifer to the brim and the water while there changed to carry with it the metals of concern: lead and cadmium as it comes back and out at the surface. These wounds to the earth are the source and must be addressed or nothing the EPA, the Quapaw Tribe or DEQ does will allow Tar Creek to heal.
There, he said it. AND he did it with time for a few questions from the public, all under an hour.
Tar Creek's young'un has earned his right to wear and be addressed as Dr. Nicholas L. Shepherd for the rest of his life. He certainly gained it righteously. Hours he had stood in that bad water, hours more walking the site, even more crunching numbers and I would believe being astonished at them. For years I have quoted Bob Nairn with the fact that one million gallons of mine water is discharged into Tar Creek at the place we call Douthat. Now, I can quote Dr. Shepherd, at 1440 gallons per second it is actually 1,530,720 gallons per regular day with the exceptions after rain events when that number will exceed a 58 Million gallons a day and more because his weir couldn't measure the excess. Move all the chat out of the flood-way and there is only a 10% chance the fish will have a healthy stream in years to come.
Our downstreamers: praise your own. And understand even more from what Nick has learned. You don't see as much orange because the passive water treatments in Commerce that his mentor Dr. Robert Nairn has created are catching LOTS OF IRON and removing it before it reaches the city limits of Miami, OK. But watch out for what is in that water flowing by: the lead and the cadmium. I was astonished by the CADMIUM numbers he revealed and believe it should be added as a metal of concern for any yards, parks, farmland that is flooded by Tar Creek from this moment into the future until the work is done to reduce it. Federal and state agency representatives heard his presentation and have been given notice by our homegrown full-fledged scientist.
The reminder I gave to the volunteers at LEAD & NEO's Earth Day Clean up at Tar Creek held true, each must be mindful of what is on their shoes when they leave, not to walk blatantly into their homes and track these poisons inside to harm the "little ones." Or themselves. These metals can be hazardous to health, they certainly are dangerous to the environment and bio attempting to find a home.
Congratulations Dr. Shepherd, none of us are prouder of you than your mother! And none more grateful than your Tar Creek.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim