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Anybody who has ever floated the Eleven Point River can testify that it is a wild, lonesome, and highly scenic stretch of water. It’s little more than a creek until Greer Spring comes in (there’s an image of Greer Spring in the background here, and I need to write about Greer Spring more).

What many people don’t know, including myself until I crossed it while on a speaking trip a year ago, is that one upper fork of the Eleven Point reaches back all the way to Willow Springs. It’s easily forty miles as the crow flies from Willow Springs to Greer, and given the twists and turns of the river, probably twice as much in river miles.

Not only is the Eleven Point a mere creek, it’s what hydrologists call a “lost” stream. A significant percentage of its water disappears as it flows southeast toward Greer, and sometimes the streambed is little more than dry gravel. Of course, that water doesn’t really disappear; it goes underground, into the many unseen rivers that flow beneath the Ozarks. This underground network of flowing water is what gives the region its many sinkholes and caves, as ground and rock give way to water.

In March, Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club called our attention to a 33-tank petroleum storage facility in Willow Springs, very near the Eleven Point, that has little or no protection against contamination of the stream if those tanks should ever leak or seep. His article appeared in the Columbia Heart Beat blog. Now, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has picked up the story, in an article by Jack Suntrup.

Willow Springs, Missouri, is not the Chemical Valley of West Virginia, despite the somewhat alarmist comparisons. But on the “better safe than sorry” side, it only makes sense that the EPA should inspect this tank farm and prescribe whatever safety remedies it deems necessary. As the good folks of West Virginia have learned, it’s a lot easier to protect your watershed before a disaster than to try to clean up and restore afterward.

Here’s a map of the Eleven Point watershed.