Rain Running: The Middle Iowa Watershed

June 7, 2008 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

It’s two miles from my house to the stop sign and back.  I’m not one of those everyday runners, but there is something about gray skies and soft rain that gets me outside.  I like to sweat in it and feel the gathering moisture as I go.  It’s raining today in Middle Iowa.

My hood is up and I tie it down as I go, knowing that after I’ve heated up, I will pull it off and let the rain run down my face. I start slow, head down with a breeze spritzing my face.

Rainwater washes over the empty, dark fields into ditches and tributaries and, as I run, ideas continuously flow through my head. Passing my normal pee spot behind a stand of wild plum bushes I think about the dried urine that has washed away.  I try not to worry about polluting the waters with my pee; we have a septic field next to the house and when I flush it goes the same direction– downhill.

It will all become part of our watershed, that collective downhill path that water takes until it reaches groundwater aquifers, springs and rivers.

The watershed where I live feeds into the Iowa River, recognized as one of the most polluted rivers in the country.  The river is the receptacle for high levels of fertilizer nitrates, manure and fecal bacteria from livestock, sediment from farm fields, and city sewer systems.  Recently I’ve read about “accidental” manure spills into rivers and streams from hog farms. Most rivers in the state are in a similar position because the state of Iowa still hasn’t adopted parts of the Clean Water Act passed about thirty years ago.  The standard would at least keep water quality from getting worse.  But more sewage and farm permits will be issued and more sewage and toxins, human and animal, will become part of Iowa’s waterways.

Nobody swims in the rivers of Iowa anymore.

Our watershed is more than just its assigned U.S. Geological Survey identifying number. 07080208 is a watery community and I like that idea. I prefer to call it by its USGS name: Middle Iowa.  We share the runoff and rain, the sweat that drips from me; all the liquid that doesn’t evaporate will be carried downstream.

I’m almost to the stop sign and I’ve bottomed out elevation-wise. This is the lowest point of my run and the soggiest part of the road.  I try a little dance to avoid getting my shoes soaked.  It’s difficult to feel the flow of a runner’s high when your shoes are oozing puddle water.

My wife and I live in the eastern arm of the Middle Iowa watershed which stretches for over a hundred miles.  I get lost as I try to make a mental map to calculate how long it might take for my waters to make it to the Iowa River.  The Iowa River feeds the Mississippi River, which of course, empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s a hierarchy of flowing water and though it might seem to start in the clouds, there is no beginning and no end. There is just a continuous cycle of water evaporating, raining, and flowing.

Eventually, my sweat will be just a drop in the ocean.

And as I finish my run, I realize that I am not just a human contributor to the watershed, but I am a watershed too. My body is an aquifer made of cells and I shed water in various forms: tears, urine, sweat and saliva.

Water runs off of my body, just like it does from the field. It’s too jumbled now to tell where sweat ends and rain begins.  Me, Middle Iowa, the puddles in the road, the wild plums, and the fields are all part of something larger.

Below, a 2 minute video about the Iowa River from American Rivers

Entry filed under: 1, Iowa, non-Iowa, state, world. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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