Joan Horak

The title, Clean water grows on trees, is on a window sticker from Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, a part of the Chesapeake Bay foundation.

I read an article in the Gettysburg Times recently reporting that fishermen had returned to the creeks with the opening of trout season. April is Land Conservancy Month, proclaimed by the Adams County commissioners. The picture in the newspaper showed a lovely creek bordered by trees (a riparian buffer). Do you remember a stream like that when you were young? The clear cool (that is, cold) water: looking, for hellgrammites under the rocks. In my youth, that water was clean enough to drink. Just close your eyes and hear the water rushing over the rocks. What a priceless memory. Are you smiling?

How did we get from there to here? We now have a stormwater tax that Gettysburg residents will pay. There is too much runoff. It is contaminated with many things we don’t want to drink. It takes more chemicals and technology to clean our water, as well as more money. Devastating floods occur that we never in our lives dreamed could happen.

Did your mother ever say, “A place for everything and everything in its place”? That is the way nature works. You can’t put the books and toys away if there is no shelf or box to put them in. In our attempts to farm and build, we have removed the “shelves” of habitat that nature needs to keep all the “things” in their place. Streams cannot be too hot, too muddy, too fast, too deep, the wrong pH, or too polluted; otherwise the fish you love cannot live there. The fish depend on many invertebrates that live in the stream; it’s the inter-dependent cycle of life. If the chain is broken, it does not work.

Trees restore water to a pure state by absorbing up to 36,000 gallons of water per year. Water is then released into the atmosphere by transpiration. The up to 200,000 leaves on a tree uses photosynthesis to take in carbon dioxide and release pure oxygen. This process cleans the air and cools it. Trees provide shade that cools the stream water so that the invertebrates that remove pollutants can live there, cattle can have a cooler place to be, and fewer black flies live in cool streams. Trees stop runoff, by absorbing water which can then be soaked into the ground down to the water table. This is the natural state of things. Creeks should not be filled by runoff, but by the water table. Creek pollution has declined since the advent of no-till farming. What we do can make a difference.

We hear about the deforestation of the rainforest and the difference it makes to the environment. Truth be told, 80 percent of the deforestation that has occurred has happened in our own backyards. Do you want clean water to drink? Cooler summers? Do two things: one, plant a tree, and two, don’t cut one down.

Joan Horak is vice president of the Watershed Alliance of Adams County. If you want to do more, sign up on our Facebook page for a tree planting (riparian buffer) on April 13. See you there.

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