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Crayfish Tales

Boiled, peeled and dipped in garlic butter, the crayfish tails were a delicacy fresh from the clean, cold water of the Current River. We spent a hot summer afternoon leisurely turning over rocks in the riffles and shallow backwaters to catch our mess of 'dads. Our labor was its own reward. Eating the results was a bonus that nourished more than our bodies, for the crayfish tasted of fresh air, clean water and the mystery of a river's aquatic creatures.

This month the Conservation Department is celebrating Quality Water Month. Our official mascot, a crayfish, makes its debut on page 15 of "Outside In." Last month, young visitors to the State Fair received cardboard crayfish pincers that said, "Crayfish are clean water critters ... I'm a clean water critter, too."

This month, citizens around the state can attend special events featuring quality water exhibits, and pick up bumper stickers that read, "Quality Water Means Quality Life." (Check the Almanac section for events near you). This issue of "Outside In" is also devoted to helping kids learn about quality water.

Why all the fuss over something that runs nearly free from the tap?

Historically, Missourians have done a good job protecting our water sources from pollution and keeping our streams free-running and clean. But consider these headlines pertaining to Missouri water. Population growth, urban sprawl, confined livestock operations, agricultural run-off, soil erosion, groundwater contamination and many other factors threaten our water resources.

"When the well is dry, we know the worth of water," Ben Franklin wrote in 1746.

Our wells are not dry, but here's a way to understand how much water is actually available for human use: visualize a bucket full of water that represents all the water in the world. Then visualize just three percent of that bucket, which is all the fresh water in the world. Then visualize just over half that three percent - that is the amount of fresh water not frozen in ice caps or glaciers. Now visualize 0.00003 percent (less than an eyedropper full). That is the amount of unpolluted fresh water available for use.

Those precious drops are what all the fuss is about.

Not far from where I hunted crayfish in the Current River is Welch Spring, an azure gem set against a limestone bluff and cave. One rainy spring some 30 years ago, corn stalks issued from Welch Spring - corn stalks washed from a farmer's field miles away. The corn stalks hinted at what has since been proven: caves, sinkholes and springs interconnect below ground. What enters at one area can quickly spread throughout the system. Groundwater statewide is vulnerable to pollution, but karst topography (see page 2 of "Outside In") makes some watersheds even more so.

Missouri's lakes and streams attract more visitors than any other natural attraction, and annually account for millions of dollars in tourist income - $300 million from fishing alone. The value of recreation on just one river, the Meramec, was found to be about $27 million per year, or about $55,000 per mile of stream. On the Gasconade, angling and boating accounted for over 8,800 hours spent annually per mile. In north Missouri, fishing accounts for over 70 percent of the 348,000 hours of activity on north Missouri streams.

Reservoirs like Table Rock, Taneycomo, Truman and Lake of the Ozarks provide similar pools of money. And like the state's rivers, they too are vulnerable to pollution and abuse.

Economic sense dictates that protection of these valuable natural water resources remains a top priority in Missouri. Quality Water Month reminds us that, like crayfish, we're all "clean water critters."article

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