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"And What of Clear Creek?" by Mike Strong

Clear Creek with buildings
Mike Strong
Clear Creek with buildings

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “Running Out” by Lucas Bessire. 

Anthropologist Lucas Bessire returned home to south and west of Garden City, Kansas, having studied destruction of habitat and its effects on the population in Paraguay. This time he was looking at the destruction of the water supply. He described the creek and the stone house on his family’s properties. The creek level is dependent on how full the nearby river is. If the nearby river was down the creek was dry.

Bessire’s description of the Creek’s relationship with a river sounded a lot like our own creek back home, Clear Creek, south of Columbus, Nebraska and south of the Platte River. Clear Creek pushes out of the ground, not far from a bend in the Platte, a few miles west of the 10 acres my family got in the early 1960’s for our horses. Clear Creek finds its way through our 10 acres, across highway 81 and eastward to empty into the Platte River. There Clear Creek looks like a tributary, but it is really more like a detour for some of the Platte River’s groundwater.

I had a need to check Google View, the aerial photo view. Starting at Columbus I followed highway 81 south past the Platte River and a little further. Finally, I saw something that looked familiar. I haven’t been back in person for decades to Clear Creek. But there it was, crossing Highway 81. Now I just needed to find the old entry road. I could hardly believe that it was still there.

From the entry on 81 I followed the path west a few hundred feet and then south. Our acreage was still there with the pole barn we first put up and the Quonset hut like steel building we also put up. The creek was still there too but I couldn’t decide from the Google satellite photo whether I was looking at a dry creek or at a creek with flowing vegetation. I looked for the old partial dam I had helped construct to create a wide spot in the creek and slow the water just a bit until it flowed over, on its way to the Platte.

I Googled for information about the Platte and its water level. I found an article in the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal-Star with overhead pictures of a sandy Platte, near Grand Island, and almost no water. But the Journal-Star article didn’t tell me about the adjacent waterways.

So, I emailed my brother Joe. Joe is a physical therapist in the Grand Island VA hospital. It was Joe’s urging plus the Obama Care requirement for health insurance that got me to sign up at the VA. That is another story, one that should be an example toward healthcare for everyone.

Joe, it turns out, was about to drive the 50 miles eastward from Grand Island to do some maintenance on the 10 acres. Joe wrote back:

“Regarding the creek property, the water is still running pretty well.  It did go down to a trickle in 2011 but has never gone completely dry even when the Platte was a sandbox the last two summers for 3 months each.  The Springs keep pumping out water.  …”

The connections between areas of the aquifers can be puzzling. Pumping in one area can drain the areas around or not, sometimes there is no direct relationship between nearby areas.

I remember heading for the Dahlkoetter family farm just south of Stanton, Nebraska when I was a kid. Highschool educated Uncle Bud would show us the newest farm tech, and, of course, the irrigation systems he put in, pumping groundwater. His son, Casey, ag-college educated, has a farm near Norfolk. Same technology.

Quoting Lucas Bessire again:

“The loss of groundwater cuts in opposite political directions at once. Some progressives seize decline as proof of rural voters’ ruinous shortsightedness. Conservatives invoke it as a rallying cry to protect a threatened farming way of life and to protest regulation. ... Regardless of political position, all agree that aquifer loss is a threat to ideal homelands.”

Even spread out across the plains, as distant as these points are, they share a common need for planning and awareness of each other in order to find a future that still has water.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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