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Becoming Wise Water Stewards

With
April showers upon us, it might be high time to build a dam and
back up some water here on the farm. This doesn’t mean just
another piddling sky pond or a bigger bedroom for croaking frogs.
It means something that stands a good chance of making a big
difference-something that goes beyond our selfish selves. Call it
a nice gift to neighbors and generations to come.

The heart of the matter is
responsibility for better control of the flow of surface water on
the piece of land where we live. Deep down in the ground there’s
an overflowing natural resource for use rather than abuse. Too
often, it’s ignored altogether.

In the best of times, when
conservation is abandoned, topsoil is gradually swept away. The
destruction usually only makes headlines in flood years.

There’s a roadmap for it.

The water "begins"
in eastern Kentucky, but its destination, its destiny, is toward
the southwest-through the Ohio and the Mississippi channels-and
the movement of soil and water is monumental.

It’s past the point of
building up the Mississippi Delta. That’s our precious earth down
there. It’s one thing to be taxed on it, it’s another thing to
give it away after we’ve paid the sheriff.

They’ve got so much Kentucky
soil at the mouth of the Mississippi River it’s beginning to choke
the life out of the Louisiana ecology.

Where do we fit into all of
this?

Here in Kentucky, we don’t
have Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, but we do have a unique system of
more than 60 reservoirs, some huge, many exceedingly small, from
another promising sunrise over Crank’s Creek Lake in Harlan to
another forgiving sunset beyond Watson Lake in Fulton.

Fishing is supreme, a
paradise, in Cumberland, Barkley, and Kentucky lakes.

In all directions, there are
countless opportunities for soil and water stewardship. At the
same time, there’s an outstanding variety of recreational choices,
a chance to get away and each time experience a different locale.

After we camp, canoe, fish,
hike, hunt, or simply view wildlife, we may want to bring back a
fundamental idea to the place where we permanently park our
horses, hang our hats, and prop up our feet.

Water conservation makes good
common sense. Rather than complain about the vagaries of the
Kentucky water cycle, time might be better spent cooperating with
Mother Nature.

It could be as simple as
turning off the faucet while we brush our teeth. There’s a piper
to pay each time a lawn or garden is watered from a hose. Near
rural communities, it could mean calling in the bulldozers and
developing more strategically located impoundments as a way to
minimize flash floods and maximize water availability during
droughts.

The moisture returns in April
and throughout the year, but the soil does not come back. That’s a
reality that ought to make us think more carefully when we waste
water by not fixing the smallest dripping faucet. Each handful of
dirt ought to be a serious consideration. Every excavation should
be planned around a central idea: how does this affect other
people?

There’ll be tradeoffs, and
they should not be forgotten or taken lightly. For every Land
Between the Lakes there’s a Land Between the Rivers. Huge
impoundments involve huge relocations of human beings, and every
effort should be made to be as fair as we are farseeing. It takes
inspired, unselfish individuals to address the common good.

Here on the runnels of Plum
Lick-rills, rivulets, and springs-we’ll not be displacing
homesteads. We may be stirring and restructuring memories, but we
can’t live in the past. The present and the future are calling
with strong voices. They’re saying, we should have a vision.

How fine it will be to be
known as the state that cares the most for what it has: plenty of
water, priceless land, and good-hearted people who understand
what’s at stake.

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