|More than three dozen members of the southwest Missouri community gathered last week to discuss strategies for protecting the rivers and streams of the western Ozarks, with a focus on those that drain into the Elk River. The Nature Conservancy convened the meeting to seek input for a new program, the Western Ozark Waters Initiative, which aims to improve the health of the region’s waters.
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with varied stakeholders throughout the area to combat the biggest problems facing Ozark rivers and streams—too much sediment and excessive nutrients—that reduce water quality and harm aquatic life. At the meeting, farmers, landowners, conservation groups, canoe and campground operators, government officials, and food corporation representatives provided feedback on key problem areas and offered suggestions for improvements through an open discussion forum and anonymous surveys. Participants discussed current conservation activities in the region and identified specific locations where work is needed.
Drew Holt, who heads up the program, said the group intends to use this type of information to inform its conservation activities in the region. “The Conservancy is just getting in the game in southwest Missouri, so we want to find out what’s working, what isn’t, and how we can engage with other people and groups to make the most of the resources we bring to the table,” said Holt. “By working together, we can find solutions that support both businesses and wildlife. And we all benefit from clean water for drinking and recreation.
One landowner and Missouri Master Naturalist, Joyce Haynes, commended the Conservancy’s approach. “This was an awesome meeting and a great connection of different groups seeking the same outcomes,” said Haynes. “For example, I wanted to plant trees to repair recent flooding damage to my property. I learned at the meeting that I would need to plant them this month in order for them to take, so I’ve already placed an order for 50 trees.”
Gregg Sweeten, mayor of Pineville and McDonald County floodplain manager, thought the forum offered opportunities for collaboration. “The meeting was great, a meeting that can start so many things moving forward.”
The Conservancy’s next steps include following up with participants, seeking further input from stakeholders, and reaching out to current and potential partners. While this forum focused on lands that drain into the Elk River, the Conservancy also plans to seek input in other areas, including those around Shoal Creek and the Spring River.
Spring plantings, trash cleanups, community events, scientific research, landowner outreach, and other activities are expected to take place in the coming months. On-the ground projects, such as streambank restorations, are expected to begin this summer.
The Western Ozark Waters Initiative was launched in July of 2015 with start-up funding from Tyson Foods, Inc. Tyson Foods presented the Conservancy with $500,000 to conserve water quality in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri.
The region’s sensitive karst systems—sinkholes, caves and springs—make its waters especially susceptible to pollution. The chief problems with the region’s water quality are sediment and excessive nutrient runoff from a variety of sources.
The western Ozarks feature globally unique water systems that are home to a high diversity of aquatic life, such as Ozark cavefish, Ozark bass, western fanshell mussels, Missouri river cooter turtles and chert pebblesnails, some of which are found only in the Ozarks.