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Erosion akin to ‘a horror movie’

March 12, 2017 GMT

Highlights from “Historical Agriculture and Soil Erosion in the Upper Mississippi Valley Hill Country”:

• The earliest explorers remarked on the “crystal” clear water of the region, even in the Mississippi River.

• “What sounds like the plot of a horror movie or a bizarre story of Franz Kafka was reality in much of the Hill Country … In a real sense, the landscape was truly out of control.”

• “If soil erosion is the murder of soil, the downstreams particles of sediment are the corpses.”

• Chances of getting a true gullywasher storm in the blufflands are two to three times greater than in the Puget Sound area of Washington and about 100 times greater than in Middle England.

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• In the early 1900s, there was a change to more row crops that are more erosive. Because of more intense farming, organic carbon levels in soils have dropped from 5-6 percent before European settlement to 1.5 percent today.

• Ungrazed oak forest soils had an infiltration capacity of 7.46 inches of rain an hour while the land, once heavily grazed, has a capacity of only 0.05 inch an hour.

• “Gully erosion was first noted in the Hill Country in the 1880s, was widespread by 1900 and was of disastrous proportions in many areas by the 1920s.” One gully was 700 feet long and had cost the valley more than 100,000 cubic yards of sand.

• At the Appleby farm in the Whitewater, “what had once been an idyllic house site became a nightmare of flooding and rocks.” They had to pasture cattle up the hillside and the house was nearly buried in sand.

• Fairwater up the North Branch Whitewater River from Elba “was hit by every destructive process considered in the study and was essentially made unlivable.”

• In the Whitewater Valley in 1930, covering 450 square miles, there were thousands of gullies; 2,788 were big enough to require dams.

• A national survey from 1930 to 1940 found bluffland soil erosion was maybe the worst in the entire country. The man doing the survey “heard rumors of roads, bridges and farms being buried in Hill Country, and his visits confirmed the rumor.”

• By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the government stepped in to help farmers build dams and showed them how to farm on the rolling land without so much erosion. Many farms and homes were bought for public land.

• By late 1940 “the decrease of gullies in the Hill Country was dramatic.”

• With better land use, there is much more ground water recharge, so springs that had once dried up are now flowing again. Therefore, there is better habitat for trout that need cooler water.