May 27, 2002 - Srpingfield News Leader: Cameroon RPCV Stephen Van Rhein works to clean Little Sac River Basin

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 05 May 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: May 27, 2002 - Srpingfield News Leader: Cameroon RPCV Stephen Van Rhein works to clean Little Sac River Basin

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 1:38 pm: Edit Post

Cameroon RPCV Stephen Van Rhein works to clean Little Sac River Basin

Read and comment on this story from the Srpingfield News Leader on Cameroon RPCV Stephen Van Rhein and his work letting landowners know there’s cost-sharing money available for to help pay for alternative watering systems for cattle, stabilizing stream banks, protecting sinkholes and taking other steps to protect Springfield drinking water sources at:

River basin’s landowners can gain from cost-sharing alternatives.*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

River basin’s landowners can gain from cost-sharing alternatives.

By Mike Penprase News-Leader

Stephen Van Rhein isn’t sure how many landowners there are in the 400-square-mile Little Sac River Basin, but he’s convinced seven in Polk County that it makes sense to help keep the river clean.

Stretching from north Springfield to Stockton Lake — which supplies water to a pipeline and eventually to water faucets in Springfield — most of the Little Sac watershed is in Greene and Polk counties. Small portions are in Dade and Cedar counties.

The watershed covers most of the rolling hills and rich bottomland of southwest Polk County, where some farms along the river have been in families for three or four generations or longer. They are part of the reality of Van Rhein’s job as coordinator of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks’ Little Sac River Project.

His work includes letting landowners know there’s cost-sharing money available for to help pay for alternative watering systems for cattle, stabilizing stream banks, protecting sinkholes and taking other steps to protect Springfield drinking water sources.

The tough part is convincing those Polk County farmers that the project is a good idea. Van Rhein acknowledges that he’s already got three strikes against him.

He’s from Springfield. The city uses the Little Sac to carry off treated sewage effluent from its Northwest Sewage Treatment Plant. And the Springfield Landfill at Noble Hill is near the county line; past problems there stick in the memories of a lot of people.

Two years in Cameroon with the Peace Corps, working in aquaculture, had its challenges for Van Rhein.

Yet dealing with an often skeptical and sometimes hostile reception when he began working on the Little Sac project and its aim of improving water quality 1Ï years ago held its own challenges.

“There is some distrust among the people to the north toward Greene County and to the city of Springfield, for some real reasons,” Van Rhein said.

That’s why he listens to what members of an advisory committee tell him and takes a low-key approach in trying to interest landowners in a 75 percent-25 percent cost-sharing program financed by a $640,000 grant the Watershed Committee received.

While similar projects get publicized in the news media, that hasn’t happened with the Little Sac project, Van Rhein said.

The approach seems to work for farmers like Ron Hinkle, who raises beef cattle and hay on a 140-acre farm just uphill from the South Bridge on the Little Sac, south of Morrisville.

Hinkle, 42, farms land once owned by his father and grandfather. He used to fish in the river, but it’s easier to go to Stockton Lake than to float the river.

There’s another reason, too.

“There’s not as many fish as there used to be,” he said.

Hinkle is loath to criticize the city where his job keeps the farm going. But he said some Polk County farmers don’t appreciate being told that they have to do something to protect a river into which sewage effluent is released, yet supplies water that eventually will be pumped back to Springfield.

The Watershed Committee’s effort is different. It doesn’t tell people what to do, but suggests alternatives that can help a farmer’s bottom line while helping the environment, Van Rhein said.

For instance, there’s a hillside spring or “seep” on Hinkle’s farm. His cattle stomp it into a muddy quagmire, forcing him to vaccinate them to prevent scours, an intestinal ailment. He learned from Van Rhein that he could dry up the seep by collecting the water and sending it to a stock tank.

Hinkle hears a lot about cleaning up the James River, and feels the Little Sac gets little attention, despite being a waterway that supplies Stockton Lake.

“I guess that’s why I was so excited when Steve came around; we were going to get attention,” he said.

Hinkle hopes to get at least one stock tank costing $1,300 installed this summer. A nearby farmer said a stock tank he installed through a cost-share with the committee has improved his farm.

Alan Young said soggy land now is lush with grass, and his cattle have a dependable water source.

Young described other efforts at improving his 88-acre farm, including creating a pond he’ll fence off from his cattle and stock with fish, and the installation of another spring-fed stock tank.

Like Hinkle, Young said he’s been pleased with how the Watershed Committee’s project has helped.

“It’s just been a real good project, and good guys to work with,” he said. “Steve is real sincere about his work. He didn’t just come out here with a bunch of bull.”

Van Rhein has a lot more to do, he said during a float on the river to determine whether a cleanup could be held or would have to wait because of high water.

Flooding two weeks ago made erosion on some farmland all too apparent, he said, pointing to where chunks of soil 3 feet wide had fallen into the river. In other places, wads of trees torn from the banks were jammed against other trees, changing the river’s flow.

There were a few signs that efforts had been made to stabilize eroded banks.

Looking at a 10-foot stretch of limestone put on the riverbank, Van Rhein said it was a good idea, but not enough. Putting rock on a riverbank does no good if water rushing over scoured banks hits the rock and tosses it away, he said.

That’s why he’d like to convince a landowner to take part in a relatively large-scale bank-stabilization project to show what can be done to slow erosion, he said.

Yet there are disappointments.

During the float, he spotted bright yellow signs on Missouri 13 near Morrisville, advertising the auction of 295 acres that will be sold in eight parcels, some with river frontage. He was too late in talking to the owner about erosion prevention, he said.

Seeing land divided for what could be hobby farms or for large-acreage home lots could turn out to be an advantage, Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District project director Richard McConnell said.

McConnell has several years’ experience working on Special Area Land Treatment, or “SALT” projects, intended to cut erosion and improve water quality. He said he’s found that people moving in from California, New York and other states often are more agreeable to conservation measures than longtime farmers who are set in their ways.

Van Rhein is taking the right approach by not being pushy with landowners, McConnell said.

“If you try to force them, you’re just defeating yourself, and you can’t do that,” he said.

Changes in Springfield could help Van Rhein, McConnell said. He’d like to show farmers he works with improvements at the Noble Hill landfill, for instance.

And water quality could improve with upgrades in the Northwest Sewage Treatment Plant.

A planned expansion will increase the plant’s treatment capacity from 6.5 million gallons a day to 10 million. Springfield Public Works is including phosphorus removal in the plan — even though it isn’t required, as it is at the Southwest Wastewater Treatment plant to reduce the chemical’s levels in the James River, Assistant Public Works Director Bob Schaefer said.

Morrisville will contribute to cleaner water by building a sewage treatment plant financed by grants, bonds and funds approved by local voters. The plant will serve a town whose population has remained about 350 for years, but is is seeing more home construction.

Convincing seven farmers to buy into an effort to improve the Little Sac might not sound like much, but Van Rhein is correct in thinking that starting with a few farmers who will talk to neighboring farmers will help expand the effort, McConnell said.

“I think he’s already made some difference,” McConnell said. “I think the bigger the landowner base he gets established, the better. It’s kind of a snowball effect.”

Van Rhein doesn’t seem to be under any illusions that improving water quality in the river will be quick, McConnell said.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle,” he said. “But there are incentives here for people to do better.”

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; What RPCVs are doing; COS Cameroon



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