When wells run dry, we will know the worth of water. Benjamin Franklin
The Salt River of Arizona is a breathtaking and beautiful stretch of water, the mouth of which opens up from the Gila River near the White Mountains. Over all, the river is some 200 miles in length and is endlessly enjoyed by river rats and outdoor enthusiasts alike. But could you assume why this waterway is named the Salt River?
There is no doubt that you may imagine it is due to the salt that is in the river, but you would have only taken a single step down this thoughtful path. Why is there salt in the river? The river isn’t salty in the Gila, but once it leaves the White Mountains and forms the tributary, its salt content begins to rise.
A Clever Yet Nefarious Savior
The reason the Salt River of Arizona was named as such is mainly due to the plethora of Salt Cedar trees that run along the banks of the river.
The Salt Cedars, also known as Tamarisk…
were first introduced to the southwest as a means to slow down evaporation of the river by farmers and miners who needed as much water as they could get their hands on.
The Tamarisks were originally from the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Africa. They were considered a success when introduced as they helped stop the fragile banks of streams from eroding, the topsoil from being blown away from the cultivated fields, and replaced the areas where old forests of cottonwoods and willows once frequented the streamside’s. Thus the Tamarisk preserved the land as well as the water, with no negative side results that were at the time obvious.
The only obvious side effect of their introduction to the area was the salt that apparently began accumulating in the water. This was due to the fact that the Tamarisk draws up salt from the soil through a complex web of roots, storing it in its leaves. The salt then either falls off or is washed away into the water, thus increasing the salinity of the water.
As years passed, people began to wonder how more water could be conserved from both evaporating and being lost to stomata, the process which plants absorb water. They also wondered why so many of the natural plants of the area were being driven out by the Tamarisk. So as history tends to do, they found that their initial introduction of the Salt Cedar was a mistake, and went about correcting it by destroying the trees along riverbanks. Though they found that the trees were significantly more resilient than they had anticipated.
Mistaking Their Mistake As A Mistake
So after years of study, attempts at reintroducing the plants that were initially removed and destroying the Salt Cedar, they realized that the only reason the Tamarisk had done so well was because the naturally occurring plants were failing due to natural occurances. There was not enough water, excessive heat, and high levels of salt in the soil that had not been flushed out by rainwater. All of these conditions were perfect for the Salt Cedar. So once they were introduced, they spread like wildfire to the initial happiness and later regret of scientists. Only to be once again followed by happiness.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this it’s that nature has a far better plan than man himself could ever make up.
Ecosystems are an extremely fined tuned environment, and they were developed long before man appeared, and will remain long after we are gone.
The thought that some exotic tree from across the world was going to save farmers and miners of the Southwest does nothing more than prove how little they understood then, and how little we actually know now.
It’s taken nearly 100 years to realize the results of our forefather’s actions, and all we did was move some trees over. Trees! Think of all the meddling that has occurred by man otherwise. The dams that were developed were what caused the water levels to reduce, which thus caused the plants reliant upon that water to die off. Meanwhile, man blind of his actions, thinks something must be done to save it all and introduces a plant that had not been known to the area prior to their supposed crisis.
The point of it all, and the reason we named the Arizona Salt River such, was based on our blatant mistake of thinking we could positively change our world.
The thought of that alone is asinine at best. The Earth created us, allowed us to prosper, not the other way around. The earth has survived asteroids, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, solar flares, earthquakes, tornadoes, ice ages, floods, and sweeping fires, and lastly man himself. We’ve changed the face of this planet more than any natural occurrence, and often not for the better. It’s said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and perhaps ours is as well.
We often meddle and try to save the planet when there’s nothing we can do to save it, it’s not going anywhere. If anything we are, so rather than try to help the earth help us, why not just let it do what it’s always done. Let it create, let it destroy, and let it be. We owe more to it than it to us, and the least we can do is respect it enough to continue unhindered.
The author of this article is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on twitter @TheWorldVoyager. White water rafting Arizona is without a doubt, an unforgettable adventure, and one that can be organized by going through Inaraft.com.