report & photos by Charles Paxton
As the dominant terrestrial species on this planet we naturally have a rather grounded perspective on our environment. We named our home “Earth” despite the fact that about 70% of its surface is covered with water.
Saturday, Sept. 25, 12 members of Louisiana Master Naturalists – Northeast learned more about the crucial relationship between earth and water in a workshop on Watershed Dynamics delivered by Dr. Bill Patterson, Associate Professor of Forest Soils and Watershed Management at Louisiana Tech University.
We gathered at Louisiana Tech University’s Reese Hall, where we met Prof. Patterson unloading boxes of scientific equipment from a sleek minibus and accompanied him to a classroom for an illustrated presentation and discussion.
He began with a basic introduction to the concept of a watershed, defining the term as any area of land that drains water into lakes and rivers. Watersheds are crucial sources of clean freshwater.
We learned how relatively scarce and precious, clean, fresh, liquid water is on planet Earth. Less than 2.5% of our water is fresh (that is, not saltwater), and of the 2.5%, 68.7% is locked up in glaciers and pack ice. Very little of the remaining surface water is clean enough to be potable.
Here in northern Louisiana we are blessed with, and dependent upon, the Sparta Aquifer — a pressurized body of fresh groundwater which overlays ‘fossil’ saltwater from our marine pre-history.
The forest soil to the northwest of the twin cities in Webster, Bienville and Winn Parishes, with its natural mixture of invertebrates, bacteria, and fungi underlain by porous sandy soil, makes an excellent watershed to feed the Sparta aquifer. Two thirds of our drinking water is organically filtered through forest.
Nevertheless, the Sparta Aquifer is stressed. Fifteen to twenty years ago, industrial and commercial activities in the twin cities used more water than domestic households, but now domestic use exceeds industrial use. Overall, we are drawing upon the Sparta at an unsustainable rate; the level is dropping two feet per year.
After soaking up information for two hours, we loaded gear and ourselves into the minibus and headed for Redwine Creek in Grambling. There we waded in, testing water quality and searching for marine life at two checkpoints, one above and one below the water treatment plant.
Some had waterproof chest waders. Others just got soaked when their waders leaked! All in all, it was another glorious certification workshop adventure.