River Talk: Keeping Tributaries Clean

By Brett Martin | bmartin@kolr10.com

Published 07/25 2014 06:44AM

Updated 07/25 2014 06:48AM

JAMESVILLE, Mo. -- You might not think much about that little stream that runs near your home.  But it plays a major role in the health of the nation's rivers all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Brett Martin, KOLR10:  We are back out where the James and the Finley rivers meet and I'm with Joe Pitts from the James River Basin Partnership. Joe, another perfect day, its nice and sunny out here. We are standing right here where the two meet and the James River is fed with, would it be safe to say hundreds of tributaries."
Joe Pitts, James River Basin Partnership "Probably if you add up all the very small ones. The Findley rises in Webster county and is one of the larger tributaries to the James River and it does increase the volume of water considerably."

Brett:   "So why do we see the difference in it, I mean, it is crystal clear here, but when you get out to the James it does get a little bit murkier here especially after a big rain."
Joe: "Right, well remember when we are talking about watersheds, they can be as large or as small as we want to make them. So the Findley river is a sub-basin within the James river. It has a much smaller land mass that it drains."

Brett:  "And as we keep walking out here, it gets bigger, wider and the James River even gets wide as we go out of here. What effects does that have when two streams like this meet?"
Joe:  "Well, of course, when you have two streams of water meeting at kind of a 90 degree angle like this, you have a mixing zone out in the main part of the river where this water and the James river water gets all stirred up and mixed together. You can get some sediment filtering out or the water settling out. In fact, if you will look at the gravel bar right there, this gravel came from upstream in the Findley river and as it hits the James river, the force of the James River makes the Finley river water back up or slow down."

Brett:  "And its important to know these tributaries because if you put something in this water or something runs off in this water will eventually make it into the next body of water."
Joe: "If it gets into the Findley, itll be in the James eventually so what we focus on in the James River Basin partnership is trying to protect the entire basin. Its really just a matter of trying to get the word out to people so that the people, the citizens of the basin will be the ones to protect the river. The Findley also has a very well-treed riparian zone for most of the way so it gets a little more filtration and so you see a difference in the water simply because there is just less impact in that particular area that is the Findley river watershed."

Brett:  "What effects can a polluted tributary have to a bigger body of water like the James which then goes into Table Rock?"
Joe Pitts, James River Basin Partnership "Well if you had a very seriously polluted tributary, you would be able to tell a difference in the mainstream of the river fairly quickly as to the water quality."

Brett:  "As you move on down, and we'll continue to move on down the James, but eventually the Findley is a tributary to the James, the James is a tributary to the..."
Joe:  "The White River is a tributary to the Mississippi so you are standing in water that actually, there is a continuous connection of water from here all the way to the Mississippi on the other side of Arkansas."

Brett:  "I asked you as we were floating down, its almost impossible to measure how long it would take this water that we are standing in right now to make it there."
Joe:  "I think if you really wanted to try to calculate that, you would have to look at the average stream flow on a normal flow day and if you were to calculate between three and five miles per hour, just one spot on the water and trace it down the line you could pretty well, assuming the water didn't get withdrawn or something like that, that's about how long it would take it to make it to the Gulf of Mexico."

Brett:  "So either way though, it is important to remember whatever goes in here goes in there."
Joe:  "It can eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico."

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