There was a baptizing at the river Sunday morning, 30 or 40 cars parked along the bridge.

I think they would not have been there if they knew what I knew about the big trucks rolling across that bridge last week, turning just across the bridge to spray tons and tons of sewage sludge on the fields only a couple of miles away, on the headwaters of the creeks which feed the river. A three or four-inch rain fell on Friday, and as I crossed that bridge on Sunday I had a sickening feeling, noting that the river water was exactly the same color as the sludge sprayed on the pastures above the river.

I called the local water department to ask about the procedure. The supervisor of the sewage plant says there is no way any of the applied sludge affects the river, the color of the water the other day was just natural coloration after a heavy rain, and I expect he is right. There are buffer zones of 50 feet between applications and streams.

He says the sludge is sampled by the EPA to determine if a dozen different metals like arsenic and mercury found in the sludge are at acceptable levels, and they always are. And he points out that phosphorous from commercial fertilizers may be as bad for the river, or much worse. Applications of sewage sludge certainly should reduce the need for commercial fertilizers.

The man I talked with called one of my neighbors who uses the sludge to fertilize his fields, upset about what I might write. He is a fine man, as are all of the neighboring landowners who get the applications of sewage sludge, and value it as a way to fertilize and increase the grass they must have for their cattle.

But he was worried about the prospects of environmentalists linking polluted water with sludge and fertilizer. He says that if cattlemen are to feed the great increasing numbers of people in the world, they have no choice but to do these applications. Certainly it is a way to save some of the Ozark forestland, because without increasing the amount of grass through more fertilizer, the answer is clearing more woodlands for pasture to feed the ever-increasing numbers of cattle.

In a two-day period last week before that big rain, 60,000 gallons were sprayed on one tract of pasture, twenty trucks, each holding 3,000 gallons. The maximum allowed is two dry tons per acre, the weight of sludge without moisture. Cattle must be kept away from it for 30 days, no haying allowed for 30 days, no applications are allowed on food crops or golf courses.

Six landowners in my area receive such applications, but the man I talked with didn't know the number of tons of sludge applied on the watershed in one year. He said it is 30 to 50 percent more than it was 10 years ago, and that what was applied in three months back then takes about eight months now.

We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of gallons.

How much will it be in 10 more years? What effect will it have on the rivers of the Ozarks, knowing that every town is doing the same thing. The only recourse is incineration, which costs $3 to $5 million just to set up.

Maybe we have no choice but to absolutely ruin our small streams. I guess it is inevitable and irreversible. Who among us is not part of the problem?

Certainly there will be many more times more cattle and hogs in years to come, many more people pouring into the Ozarks to escape the mushrooming populations and problems of the big cities. But in many areas the rivers are too dirty for kids to be playing in, and for summer baptisms.

People need to be told this. And what about these rural wells, many of which have never been tested, including mine.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency has been testing the water of the river near here, and I'll try to find out what their tests show. We'll do more about this in future columns, because there is enough on this topic to fill many many pages of this newspaper.

Is it anything to worry about? Is there any alternative? Is there an answer to the slime and dying fish? Only one, and that is fewer people. An unattainable goal!

On the Web

We finally got the Web site changed this week, and will be changing it more. I used some photos which readers sent, one of a barn owl, and some giant catfish pictures which are hard to believe. We also gave the details for some of our fall float trips on the Niangua and especially the old-time overnight trip in October to celebrate Uncle Norten's 80th birthday.

If you sent a letter in the last month, and especially if you had a question, read the "reader letters" on the Web site. Someone asked about fishing, another reader wanted to know about a bird called a raincrow. I answered all of them there this week, and many others. We must have received 100 letters this past month, not all of them in agreement with what I write.

We used a bunch of them, and it is some enjoyable reading. But those catfish are like nothing I have ever seen. The Web site is www.larrydablemont.com.

Outdoor Journal

The new magazine I talked about in a recent column has become a reality. We are going to call it The Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Journal, and it will be something different. There will be 48 pages, with no advertising, color paintings on the cover, most of the illustrations inside will be black and white artwork with few old photos. The artwork alone will make it special.

This will be an old-time outdoor magazine with no professionals, experts or modern-day legends to be found in its pages, no 'where-to-go' nor 'how-to-do-it,' just good stories, like Mark Twain and Jack London wrote, except maybe on a more amateurish level.

We'll buy true stories or fiction, and there will be the things found in magazines a half century or more ago, like outdoor recipes, humor, nostalgia, an outdoorsman's quiz, old artwork, etc.

The first issue will have a beautiful painting of a white-tail buck sneaking past a hunter's cabin on a snowy night, and it will be called the Thanksgiving-Christmas issue, which we'll have ready about the opening of deer season.

I am looking for writers of course, professionals who do this for a living, or just common Ozark people who have one good story in them.

No Hemingway stuff, no Shakespeare. We are looking for storytellers .... hunting, fishing, history, anything pertaining to the outdoors. All submissions have to be here by Sept. 10 and need to be related to the winter season, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.

If you just want to be advised as where and how to see the magazine or order it, send a postcard and we'll let you know when it is ready. You can e-mail me at lightninridge@alltel.net.

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